Yellowstone County Hotel Owners Protecting Guest Registers

A local ordinance requires hotels to turn over their records or be faced with a possible crime.

By Dillon Tabish

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County hotel owners are fighting an ordinance that requires them to turn over guest registers to any city employee, including police officers and parking attendants, calling it an invasion of privacy.

The Yellowstone County Lodging Association, which has about 40 hotels in its membership, says it will work with Billings City Attorney Brent Brooks to consider a new ordinance that would clarify the rules for turning over their records.

A local ordinance requires hotels to turn over their records or be faced with a possible crime. Officials say it was originally designed to give the city control over zoning regulations.

Hotels owners are concerned after a police officer demanded to see the register at the Days Inn and was denied. He then returned and, according to Billings Police Chief Rich St. John, and told the desk clerk, “you could be charged criminally if you don’t comply.”

The reason for the request was not disclosed.

St. John cited a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a similar ordinance in Los Angeles for his concern.

Billings City Attorney Brent Brooks says he favors repealing it.

“Law enforcement goes to judges all the time” to seek to acquire a warrant that allows them to search a hotel room, he said. “It is not a huge burden.”

Dan Schwarz, chief deputy Yellowstone County Attorney, said that if the hotel refuses to release the requested information, the police officer must determine whether there are emergency circumstances, such as hearing a cry for help from a hotel room, to determine if a crime had been committed or was occurring, the Billings Gazette reported (http://tinyurl.com/nwof83g).

The police chief said hoteliers could help themselves and police when deciding whether to turn the register information over to police. He said an officer could get a search warrant that he said would jam up their business while police secure the area.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.