With all the public fuss about "air travelers' rights," it's easy to ignore the fact that travelers face problems in venues other than airlines. One reader recently asked, succinctly:
"What are my rights in a hotel?"
The short answer is that there are no national standards, but you have the usual rights under general contract and tort law and most states have "innkeepers" regulations that relate to transient accommodations. Here are some of the typical features.
Legislation and regulation
I know of no federal hotel requirements akin to the several consumer protections imposed on airlines, nor can I find any federal consumer protection standards. Instead, governing legislation is a combination of general contract and tort law—some of it going back to English Common Law—and innkeeper rules established at state and local levels. And although many basic requirements are similar, you find small variations among different locations.
In general, hotels are responsible for providing and maintaining adequate standards of security for guests. In legal terms, that's a "duty of care" standard. That translates into making sure doors are secure and, where appropriate, monitored; keeping your room number confidential, making sure that window and door locks work properly, and such. Many hotels now place full-time surveillance cameras in public areas, although as far as I can tell, they are not mandated in many places. If a hotel is in a known dangerous location, management has a responsibility to warn you.
Hotels are generally liable for damages to or assaults on guests by its employees. However, problems caused by other guests are generally not the hotel's responsibility unless some form of obvious contributory negligence was involved.
Hotels are generally required to maintain their properties in a safe condition. That means removing or isolating hazardous conditions such as snow and ice on walkways. Hotels should monitor, fence off, or otherwise protect guests—especially children—from "attractive" hazards such as swimming pools. Also, hotels must adhere to all local building codes and requirements, fire regulations, requirements for nonhazardous upholstery materials, and such.
Hotels are responsible for providing a room in good condition for occupancy. That induces sanitary bathroom facilities, adequate ventilation of air conditioning, freedom from insects and other pests, and other similar basics.
In general, hotels are responsible for damage, loss, or theft of personal property in guests' rooms. These days, however, most hotels guarantee such property only if it is deposited in a hotel's safe—which the hotel must provide to avoid in-room liability. Many hotels post "not responsible for loss or damage to personal property" notices, but as far as I can tell, those don't really reduce the hotel's liability.
Clearly, not all valuables can be stored in a hotel safe, including such high-value items as computers, fur coats, cameras, and such. Here, the standard of hotel responsibility seems to depend on whether or not the hotel can be considered "negligent" in its security procedures. Also, hotels are generally allowed to confiscate personal property to pay a current unpaid bill.