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Florida hotel refuses rooms to people based on where they live

Posted at 6:59 PM, Jan 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-09 15:45:33-05

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A North Fort Myers couple was shocked to find out a local hotel would not rent them a room for the very fact that they are local.

Diane and Bob Buhler looked forward to a stay-cation getaway over the weekend. Mr. Buhler made reservations on the booking website Priceline for the Best Western Fort Myers Waterfront. "I said to my wife, you have two days off. Lets get a hotel right here for two nights," he said. "They gave me a confirmation, they took my credit card, the hotel had a reservation, and the website had a reservation number."

However, the two were turned away at check-in. "She looks at the license and says, 'you can't stay here, you're a Lee County resident,'" said Bob. "I said, what are you talking about? She said, 'we don't rent rooms to Lee County residents, you have to leave.'"

The hotel's website states this policy on their homepage. It reads, "This hotel’s policy is to accept bookings only from guests outside the Lee County Area."

"What kind of rule is this," said Bob. "It's some sort of discrimination against Lee County residents."

According to local attorneys, this practice is legal.

It would only be illegal, if the establishment was turning away people based on age, race, color, religion, nationality, or disability. Lawyers add some hotels do this to avoid crime, prostitution, drug activity, and hotel parties.

Best Western did refund the couple. 

A spokesperson for Best Western sent a statement writing: 

“Each Best Western hotel is independently owned and operated, and has the ability to establish hotel policies that are reasonable and narrowly tailored to their local market. To the extent a hotel has guest related policies, they must not violate any local, state or federal laws.”

Tuesday, the Best Western Fort Myers Waterfront added they put the policy into place to make the hotel attractive to families:

When our family purchased the hotel in 2000 it was a mess, lots of local traffic and very little of that was desirable. We had to put some policies in place to make this a safe and attractive place for families and business clientele. I can tell you many stories like the senior citizen that rented a room, we decided to make an exception for, only to kick out her grandson and 10 of his friends having a birthday party later that night.

The News Press did a story July 27, 2014 about this policy and many hotels also have and enforce this policy as well. I personally think this is an example of a few bad experiences have ruined it for all the people that would be just fine.

We feel blessed to have a place that is attractive enough to want to come and stay, and we are here to bring in new customers every day. Having said that, looking back some 17 years ago now the policy was the right thing to do. We do make exceptions; many local people stayed with us after Hurricane Irma, some with FEMA vouchers others we donated. When the Red Cross has called, or calls in the future, as well as other organizations we are always ready to help when we can.

It is our intentions to be a helpful part of this community.