Can a motel discard your belongings for owing money?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can a motel discard your belongings for owing money?

I am homeless with 2 kids and was staying at a motel. One day I could not pay so they locked the room and have been holding all my possessions for almost 2 months. They said that if I don’t pay by certain time they will discard all of it. However, it is all that we own and it’s a shame they would do that to a homeless family knowing that. I owed $100 for the day and they want $212 for me to get my stuff and I just dony have it right now. I am disabled and struggling to keep my kids off the street.

Asked on September 11, 2017 under Business Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

They cannot hold your belongings hostage or dispose of them because you owe them money: that is illegal, and in fact is theft. If you owe the money, they can evict you: you have no right to stay in their property without paying. They could also sue you for the money (e.g. in small claims court), but that would be moot or irrelevant if you have no money. Those are the two things they could do if you owe them, but again, they cannot take or withhold your property.
Try contacting the police for help: they do not always help in cases like this, often (incorrectly) viewing it as a "civil" dispute for the courts, but it costs you nothing to contact them, and if they will help, that will be the quickest resolution.
If the police will not help, go to the country courthouse for the county in which the motel is located, tell the clerk's or customer service office that a motel manager is refusing you access to your belongings and ask how to file a legal action for unlawful "distraint" to get your belongings back.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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