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Hotel Charges Guests $500 For Bad Online Reviews 183

Posted by timothy
from the may-require-substantial-deposit dept.
njnnja (2833511) writes In an incredibly misguided attempt to reduce the quantity of bad reviews (such as these), the Union Street Guest House, a hotel about 2 hours outside of New York City, had instituted a policy to charge groups such as wedding parties $500 for each bad review posted online. The policy has been removed from their webpage but the wayback machine has archived the policy. "If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review."
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Hotel Charges Guests $500 For Bad Online Reviews

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  • by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:25PM (#47608773) Homepage Journal

    How much will the class action lawsuit cost them, when they're brought to court for deceitful contracts?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How much will the class action lawsuit cost them, when they're brought to court for deceitful contracts?

      Probably legal, just stupid. e.g. look here for a 1A specialist's take on it:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/08/04/volokh-conspiracy-marketing-genius-award-goes-to-the-union-street-guest-house-hudson-new-york/

      Apparently if you are aware of them, entering into a "non-disparagement" agreement isn't all that rare and is usually enforceable. Mind you, still an epic PR move in this particular case.

  • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:26PM (#47608777)

    Maybe she could have warned them what happens when you try to bury the truth.

  • "In an effort to reduce the amount of people to enjoy our service, we will start charging extra when you don't want others to come enjoy our service". Well played.
  • by mythosaz (572040) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:31PM (#47608803)

    Except, they didn't actually charge anyone, they just threatened it.

    As usual, a good breakdown at Fatwallet:
    http://www.fatwallet.com/forum... [fatwallet.com]

    They've been spammed with bad reviews, Streisand effect and all...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:44PM (#47608875)

      They did more than threaten. They actually withheld money from wedding parties and then buckled after people got pissed and kicked up a serious fuss. As for the spamming, it's what they deserve.

      • by beltsbear (2489652) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @04:39PM (#47609379)

        I am not defending their stupidity but there is ZERO evidence that they have actually done this. They said it was a 'joke' and that they have never used that clause. Whether or not it is a 'joke', there is no real examples of people being charged for bad reviews.

        • it doesn't matter, it's a clause in a contract so I don't see how it's a joke. it's more of a threat. and for that I think they should be forced by the state to only host wedding for barnyard animals.
      • Maybe they were just threatening not to return the money at some indeterminate point in the future unless they took it down :)

    • by AnOnyxMouseCoward (3693517) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:46PM (#47608899)
      Except, if you actually read all the TripAdvisor reviews (I had a lot of time to waste yesterday), you do notice a few things:

      1. The owners seem incredibly snarky.
      2. There's multiple cases of people getting charged even though they tried cancelling half a year in advance
      3. They seem to suffer from low staff and debatable accounting practices
      4. There's a of positive reviews from people with 1 review, and he accuses negative reviewers of being liars when they have a few reviews on their account

      Whether or not they actually charge $500 for bad online reviews is debatable, but they sure seem like dicks and charge for everything else, and have bad business practices.
      • The word 'debatable' does not mean what you think it means.

        From other comments, they threatened and backed down. But that's not the point either. Just having it in your policy is bad enough, that's not on any side of the word "debatable". Actually withholding money is likewise not "debatable", even if they cave.

        We could debate, but it would serve no purpose.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This guy posted on Yelp last year that the hotel fined his friends for his review:

      http://www.yelp.com/biz/union-street-guest-house-hudson?hrid=_p-R59VY-c19Nmxt4r9X9w

      • by caseih (160668)

        Ahh well, that's that then. If it's posted on the internet, it is definitely true.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When I looked last night there were more than 700 reviews. When I look now, there are only 100.

    The real story here is Yelp deleting negative reviews for this crappy hotel.

  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:36PM (#47608831)

    I know that you can enter into a contract with a company essentially saying "I won't post a negative review online." That would be sleazy but legal. How legal would it be, however, to have a person sign a contract that binds a third party into not posting a negative review under penalty of the signing party (not the bad review posting party) being fined? I don't know about you, but if I throw an event, I'm not usually in total control of my guests once they leave the event. If a guest leaves the party/wedding/ete, goes home, and posts a negative review of the hotel, how would that be under the control of the person who hosted the event/signed the contract?

    I wonder if they ever tried implementing this policy and, if so, how many lawyers fired off letters warning the hotel to back down or else.

    • by mythosaz (572040) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:40PM (#47608859)

      I sign those contracts all the time.

      Sometimes my contract says that I believe a group of people will perform better than another group of people, and if my chosen group of people perform badly, I have to pay a penalty to the other party.

      The other party is my bookie.

    • People agree to pay for things outside of their control all the time. Consider the contract you have with your auto insurance company, for example, in which they agree to pay in the event that you get into an accident. If you agree to the terms of your own free will, in the absence of fraud or duress, you should assume that they're binding, at least morally if not legally. The real problem would be if they were trying to fine the people posting negative reviews directly, when they weren't a party to the con

      • by profplump (309017)

        Insurance, though, is strongly regulated, precisely because of the sort of difficulties discussed here. You can't form an arbitrary insurance contract; the insurer must be licensed and the contract must conform to a whole slew of extra rules not applicable to contracts in general.

    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @04:56PM (#47609517)

      http://www.bbb.org/upstate-new... [bbb.org]

      Just looking through the BBB complaints from years before this whole ordeal began, it's pretty apparent that the business has very little regard for its customers and does everything it can to leverage its policies so that it can keep the money. One quick example from the BBB complaints:

      I made a reservation that I then had to cancel. They advised [ed. note: in the policy] it would take up to 60 days to processes the cancellation less a $25 cancellation fee. I contacted them 9 months in advance of the reservation. I have not heard back. I have emailed the cancellation email address twice as well as the general information email and have received no response. On Yelp, you can see there are others who have had this issue where they do not return funds if the reservation is cancelled. They charged me the full value of the reservation up front, even when they say that they are only going to charge half at the time of the reservation and half at the time of the stay. The full price that they charged me was $812.00

      All she asked the BBB to help with was to get them to honor their policy and refund her the $812, less the $25 cancellation fee, which she figured was still reasonable, since at that point they were still 5 months before the reservation date. The business responded to the BBB by claiming that it never received the e-mails from the customer...and that was it. They didn't offer to go ahead and honor the cancellation request. So, since they had claimed they never received the request (and apparently the BBB complaint didn't count as a request either), she posted timestamped logs of all of the e-mails she had sent. Their response to that was:

      Once again. This person is not reading our "Cancel at your own Risk" policy despite the fact that she has cut and pasted it. It can be found again at:

      http://unionstreetguesthouse.c... [unionstree...thouse.com] [ed. note: the policy has obviously changed since then]

      After having the chance to read it she agreed to it by clicking the box and agreeing to a contract with us. That said if said cancelation was made AND accepted by us there would have been a refund.

      The customer pointed out that their policy doesn't mention anything about the cancellation needing to be "accepted" by them and that she perfectly followed the policy, giving them months of advance notice and contacting them via the one-and-only means that they make available. She repeated her request that they simply honor their own policy.

      The business never responded again and the BBB had to close it as an issue that the business failed to resolve. The business has since changed its cancellation policy to include that they need to accept the cancellation, which is utterly ludicrous, which is nearly as bad as having a no-cancellations-allowed policy for rooms booked for more than three days at a time, regardless of when you try to cancel them.

  • by SJester (1676058) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:37PM (#47608843) Journal
    I'd be so tempted to write a positive review that damns them with faint praise. "I was delighted to discover that the toilets on the first floor do flush adequately, and that the water stops rising eventually and goes back down!" Or "the cheap fake strawberry air freshener reminds me of my best year in college."
    • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @04:30PM (#47609307) Homepage Journal

      John J. on Yelp [yelp.com] beat you to it:

      Apparently we are not allowed to write negative reviews, so I will write a positive one.

      I very much enjoyed my stay at the Union Street Guest House, which met or exceeded every expectation! Everything felt authentic and vintage, like the bathroom, which did not have working toilets. ("Just like olden times," noted the concierge.) Similarly, the beds were very uncomfortable, just like in the days of yore, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had taken the trouble to obtain several hundred bedbugs to place in the bed, for the sake of authenticity.

      The food in the dining room was similarly amazing -- totally inedible! One bite of the cold porridge and my wife said, "Wow, this stuff is unbelievable!" So true.

      I can't recommend this place enough. It is by far my favorite plague-infested parasite haven in Hudson, NY.

      Please don't fine me $500; I spent all my money getting rid of the bedbugs I brought back with me.

  • Don't they realize that a policy like this is more likely to SCARE potential customers away than to help their reputation?

    Do these idiots think this through at all before coming up with crap like this?

    • Well, I guess you have to be already very desperate to attempt something like that. I doubt they'd even consider doing something like that if they didn't already drown in negative reviews. It's more a "we're going under anyway, can as well try something desperate" thing, I'd say.

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @03:46PM (#47608889)

    without posting anything bad. For instance:

    - This hotel definitely has 8 rooms, and all of them have beds.
    - The hotel's owner is very dedicated to ensuring your bill is correct when you leave.
    - Checkout time is strictly enforced, so you're sure to find your room empty when you arrive.
    - Staying at this hotel is much better than camping on a landfill.
    - This hotel is much less expensive than the George V, and much more comfortable than a Texas motel.

    • by neminem (561346)

      i.e. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmw... [tvtropes.org]

      Which works, though I would have had more fun going the other direction, being like "This was a FANTASTIC HOTEL. Its food was DEFINITELY NOT TERRIBLE, and when I went to check in, the guy at the front desk definitely did NOT spend half an hour ignoring me to instead post pictures on facebook. There was NOT a roach problem, and the toilet in the bathroom definitely did NOT stop up a bunch of times."

    • Or how about "staying in this hotel reminds me of a Song from a French Broadway Play"

      the song in question of course being Master Of the House from Les Mis

  • by Cutting_Crew (708624) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @04:04PM (#47609083)
    This is the suit where Kleargear fined a couple $3,500 for leaving a bad review and ruined their credit etc etc. Looks like they (Kleargear) didnt even show up to court. Wonder why.

    Palmer vs Kleargear [wikipedia.org]
    • by russotto (537200)

      Kleargear was even worse. They charged the "fine" when
      1) The person who posted the review was not the person who agreed the the contract (the contract, unlike USGHs, did not say anything about third party reviews)

      2) They'd already breached the contract by not delivering the item.

      3) They'd actually added the language to the contract AFTER the person who ordered it did so.

      USGH seems to be a bunch of reasonably honest dirtbags, at least; they do indeed mention that the fine applies for other people's reviews,

  • $500 for a bad review is pretty terrible until you learn that good reviews are $200 each.

  • by aaronb1138 (2035478) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @04:37PM (#47609353)
    The real issue is people putting ridiculous amounts of stock into online reviews that are easily manipulated both by the vendor of a given service or a minority of disgruntled and hyper-critical customers. With groups like Yelp or Angie's List, it gets especially messy, because they don't use a verification system for reviewers and on both sides there are paid armies of the people who can't hack it as (lame sack of shite) SEO consultants trying to grift a buck manipulating reviews positive for their clients and negative for nearby competitors.

    This gets even worse when we consider the nasty culture of anti-confrontation where people instead of bringing an issue appropriately to management and getting it fixed, just spout vitriol and become oversensitive over minutia.

    Sure, lots of bad service exists in the various service and product industries. The simple fix is to clearly ask for what you want and then not pay (demand a credit / refund) when things are not made right. Too bad the majority of people willing to go to such lengths are usually the self-absorbed assholes who have unreasonable requests and expectations.
    • Just looked at the Yelp reviews... Yep lots of people who have never come close to the place spouting off just so someone thinks their voice is important and try to make some false attempt at social commentary.

      I guess the same charge could be leveled at /. posters...
  • by Swave An deBwoner (907414) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @04:46PM (#47609427)

    I had my wedding reception catered at the Union Street Guest House last Saturday.

    The Union Street Guest House required me to sign an agreement stating that I would forfeit a $500 fine to them if I post a negative review of their establishment.

    Rather than lose $500, let me just say that I had my wedding reception catered at the Union Street Guest House last Saturday.

    • by Kittenman (971447)

      I had my wedding reception catered at the Union Street Guest House last Saturday.

      The Union Street Guest House required me to sign an agreement stating that I would forfeit a $500 fine to them if I post a negative review of their establishment.

      Rather than lose $500, let me just say that I had my wedding reception catered at the Union Street Guest House last Saturday.

      Why would you sign such an agreement? Wouldn't this wording have tipped you off that the place was a bit dodgy?

      And, of course, all the best to you and partner.

  • So if you don't leave a positive review they keep your money. That's extortion, and very very illegal.

  • by MiniMike (234881) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @04:57PM (#47609529)

    Say you had a legit bad experience there- so you wait the week or so until they return your deposit to unleash your torrent of critical reviews, or start burning through the deposit while you're still there.

    If your experience there was so bad that you can't wait a week to post the review you should probably be talking to a lawyer first anyway.

    • Uh oh, you didn't read their policy at the Wayback Machine archive:

      The deposit will not be refunded until we feel that everything is 100% resolved (we reserve the right to refund at any time).

      You might have to wait a looooonng time for your refund. Ha ha.

  • A business trying to restrict users' free speech, or users empowering the various review sites out there that seek to become "gatekeepers of reputation."

  • So... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Greyfox (87712)
    If you've never stayed there, you can post a bad review for free? Because I have a special review I've been saving for years for just such an occasion!
  • How does Union Street get itself out of this PR nightmare? I recommend they invest in a real-time mobile feedback system so that they can react to and ideally fix any guest complaints on the spot before the guests leave and go squawking on social media. There are a couple of good feedback platforms out there such as Osurv (http://osurv.com/). Successful hotels understand that it’s ultimately cheaper to please your current customers than to pay the high acquisition costs of acquiring new ones.
  • My favorite thing about this is how many of the yelp reviewers think that yelp removing their reviews is a violation of their first amendment rights.

  • by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @05:08AM (#47612529)

    We can only take people's word for what wedding they are attending, therefore we are not responsible for guests booking under different names or choosing to attend another event. We will not question guests about their intentions after a reservation is made.

    So, even if a person not in your wedding party leaves a bad review, you may get dinged for it if that person was mean enough to say he belonged to you when he checked in...

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