Legislation sought by North Carolina's lodging industry that attempts to declare when long-term hotel guests qualify for tenant protections more associated with houses or apartments cleared a Senate committee Tuesday.
The measure, which would start protections after someone stays at a hotel, motel or campground for 90 consecutive days, is very similar to a 2021 bill that Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed.
Bill supporters still argue current law makes it unclear exactly when hotel operators can remove unruly guests quickly without having to take legal action that's usually necessary for evictions. A landlord-tenant relationship also can involve background checks of the applicant and security deposits.
The 90-day threshold "brings clarity to this relationship," said Sen. Brad Overcash, a Gaston County Republican and bill co-sponsor.
The effort is taking place as increasing numbers of families or low-income people are using hotel rooms or campsites for long-term lodging during an affordable housing shortage. The eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted those challenges.
Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said the measure still suffers the same problems as the 2021 vetoed bill by failing to protect vulnerable families or students who have nowhere else to stay. She urged an amendment by giving guests a 24-hour notice before being forced out of their rooms so that they can collect what could be their lone belongings.
Isabel Villa-Garcia with the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, who spoke for the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended it on a voice vote to another committee, said the industry needs more certainty in the law.
"We are in the business of hospitality," Villa-Garcia said. "When guests are paying and abiding by the law, it is not in our ... business interest to kick them out."
Without changes to the law, Villa-Garcia added, fewer innkeepers will be willing to accommodate long-term guests without more restrictions and requirements.
Bill Rowe, an attorney with the North Carolina Justice Center, which represents low-income residents, urged more discussion toward reaching a compromise. He suggested a requirement that potential guests fill out a form to declare whether they are just passing through or seeking a more permanent residence. Then the lodging operator can determine whether they wish to offer housing that would brings tenant protections into play.
"These folks are not going to go away," Rowe said. "Those concerns and those issues for them are going to be around."
Some Republicans on the committee suggested that additional consumer protections for long-term residents could be considered in different legislation.
When vetoing the 2021 measure, Cooper wrote that the "legislation is not the right way to ensure safety in hotels" and instead "allows unnecessary harm to vulnerable people."