Government regulations on bed and breakfasts unknown to, resisted by proprietors

Monday, July 7, 1997

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- When was the last time you thought to check a hotel to see that there were properly marked fire exits? Or counted the number of parking spaces to ensure there were enough for guests? Or took a stroll through the kitchen to check how the food is being handled?Thanks to regulatory standards, we often don't worry about such things when we stay at a typical hotel. But the growing popularity of bed and breakfast establishments should mean a second look at some things we take for granted.A recent study done at the University of North Texas shows that a large percentage of bed and breakfast proprietors are unaware of current regulations, particularly those at the county and municipal level, where most of the regulations involving health, fire codes and zoning are enacted."I was very surprised at what they didn't know," said Dr. Johnny Sue Reynolds, who spearheaded the study. "It's really rather frightening for them not to know, because if they've already opened, the code inspectors could come by and shut them down and then they might never open back up. Ignorance isn't a defense with these kinds of regulations, any more than it is for a speeding ticket."The study is scheduled to be published in the Summer 1997 issue of the Texas Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. Reynolds co-wrote the study with UNT graduate student Michael Cohen.Reynolds, an associate professor in the UNT School of Merchandising and Hospitality Management, surveyed a random sample of the more than 450 bed and breakfast operations identified in the 1993 Texas Hotel Occupancy Tax Accounts Report.The study examined bed and breakfast regulations to identify the existence of, or need for, standards related to zoning, building and fire codes, insurance, signage, regulations for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation.Currently, the only consistent governmental regulation for bed and breakfasts at the state level is the hotel tax. Health regulations are done at the county level, and any others are usually administered at the city and municipal level.The results of the survey showed that only 20.8 percent of bed and breakfast owner/operators were aware of any regulations affecting them at the county level and just more than one-third (36.8 percent) were aware of any municipal-level regulations. Sixty percent were aware of state regulations, with the majority of those citing the state hotel tax."With the boom in bed and breakfasts, we're finding that there are a lot of people opening them who generally know very little about a bed and breakfast," Reynolds said. "They usually have good recipes, a nice house and wonderful antiques. They like people, and that's usually why they open them up. Regulations are the last thing on their minds."In fact, the whole idea of regulation doesn't sit well with most of the proprietors due to fears that standardization would adversely affect the individuality and creativity of the operations. The only regulations to which a majority agreed that some form of standardization would be acceptable were building and fire codes (70.8 percent) and insurance requirements (53.7 percent)."There really should be enforcement of certain regulations, but not to the extent of what hotels have," Reynolds said. "I don't think a bed and breakfast needs to be required to have a commercial kitchen as a hotel would, but there need to be some guidelines in place for people who prepare food. If they're concerned about the installation of a sprinkler system ruining the historic appeal, then they at least need smoke alarms."Location of the bed and breakfast often has an effect on what regulations are enforced for establishments, with community interests as the standard."The regulations might be different in a small community," Reynolds said. "If they've never had a bed and breakfast before, then there may not be a problem opening one up because no one knows what to expect. Usually the community will demand that zoning laws be enforced if there are any problems. In San Antonio, there have been fights over bed and breakfasts because of parking of the guests."In addition, the study found the following results:· Small seems to be the trend. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed have four or fewer guest rooms. Just more than 10 percent have six or more with a high of 25.· Just under half of those surveyed had been in business for two or fewer years. The average was 4.05 years with a high of 21 years.· Two regulation areas were seen as having the highest impact on opening and operating: insurance requirements (by 80.2 percent) and building and fire codes (66 percent). Zoning regulations were the next highest at 34 percent.

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