Hotels in California have a general obligation to rent rooms to anyone who asks and is able to pay. This open-door approach comes to us from old England, where travelers turned away at inns risked meeting bandits on the roads. State law prohibits innkeepers from refusing to rent a room on the basis of an individual’s age, but a number of exceptions involve individuals who are minors. In California, a minor is anyone younger than 18 years old, which would bar them from getting past check-in and accessing a hotel room per hotel policies.

Prom Night Dilemma

Prom and graduation night celebrations used to be expensive headaches for hotels. Innkeepers felt compelled by state anti-discrimination law to rent rooms to underage students. But all night parties in student occupied rooms often led to broken furniture, vandalized property and angry guests kept awake by noise. Minors can legally invalidate rental agreements that obligate them to pay for damages after the fact, so hotels were often stuck with repair bills. If they didn't require an 18-year-old to be present in the group or have a credit card on file in case damages occurred, they were left empty handed after the fact.

Parent Liability

Under a law that took effect in 2000, hotels can require minors unaccompanied by adults to provide documents signed by parents or other responsible adults agreeing to pay all damages to hotel property. This allows minor guests to skirt age restriction, but ensures a level of responsibility by the party to not damage items, or pay for them if they do.

Innkeepers must apply the policy uniformly to all unaccompanied guests who do not meet the minimum age requirement. Hotels can also refuse rooms to minors if innkeepers believe the rooms would be used for parties by other unaccompanied minors, according to California Hotel & Motel Association guidelines. They know that young people can cause extra disruption or damage due to the nature of their age, which further explains why many hotels have age restrictions.

Underage Drinking Prohibited

Hotels can lose their liquor licenses and be sued if they allow alcohol consumption on their premises by guests under the legal drinking age of 21. Innkeepers can seize alcoholic beverages from underage guests and evict underage individuals found to be drinking. They can enter the private rooms of guests of any age if they suspect alcohol is being consumed by underage individuals.

This is why most hotels and states have an age policy that requires a guest to be of legal age for drinking, which is 21, in order to check in. Guests must produce a government issued ID at these hotels to prove their age. These measures are used to prevent illegal alcohol consumption in most states.

Other Options for Minors

Luckily, those who do not meet the required check-in age or do not have a legal guardian with them may be able to stay in other facilities, like Airbnbs or hostels. Airbnbs and independent renters may have their own policies that prohibit younger guests from booking with them, but it varies. These alternatives to hotels may have occupancy limits, have specific guidelines for incidentals that occur or require other responsibilities from their guests like clean up and other tasks. There won’t be any hotel staff to clean up after you in an Airbnb, so keep that in mind for your next getaway as well.