New York Guest House Burns Own Reputation To The Ground By Trying To Charge Customers $500 For Bad Reviews

from the not-so-much-a-T&C-page-as-it-is-a-suicide-note dept

The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, joins the small group of businesses who have attempted to levy fees against customers who leave negative reviews. It’s an exclusive group that no business should want to be a part of, one that includes the infamous and possibly French geek gadget re-shipper KlearGear.

Page Six was the first to report on this customer-unfriendly clause residing in the rental terms and conditions:

If you stay here to attend a wedding and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review.

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 (this is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer and we expect you to explain that to them).

Not only is the clause incredibly stupid and openly antagonistic, but it holds renters responsible for the actions of anyone in their party, including guests whose experience may have been drastically different than the renting party’s. It even tells renters to spread the news that no negative reviews should be posted, which should be enough to tell potential customers to rent elsewhere.

Now, the Union Street Guest House has all the negative reviews it will ever need. As soon as this started spreading around the internet, it’s Yelp page quickly filled up with negative reviews, forcing the business to offer this “explanation” on its Facebook page.

The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.

Oh. Well, LOL… I guess. I’m not sure the “it was all a joke” defense is going to undo the damage done by its decision to insert this language into its rental terms, no matter what the original impetus. This also doesn’t explain why a lousy joke was allowed to be part of the official policies for nearly two years (it appeared sometime between August and October 2012). It’s gone now, but there’s still an edge to USGH’s voice in the amended terms, which indicates the Guest House is in no hurry to hand out refunds, return deposits or deal with chargebacks.


If you file for a charge-back (request a refund directly from your amex or bank card) or file a complaint to any 3rd party organization during that time you are responsible for any fees associated with it and doing so will only hold up the refund process…

The deposit will not be refunded until we feel that everything is 100% resolved (we reserve the right to refund at any time). If you hold the entire Inn you are responsible for every room. There are no “releasing” rooms prior. If there are any unused rooms you forfeit your entire deposit. All chargebacks and any other fees related to any charges from anyone in your party (that they have not paid) will be deducted from your deposit.

According to Page Six, there’s also a bit of an edge to its voice in its handling of earlier negative reviews:

For any bad reviews that do make it online, the innkeepers aggressively post “mean spirited nonsense,” and “she made all of this up.”

In response to a review complaining of rude treatment over a bucket of ice, the proprietors shot back: “I know you guys wanted to hang out and get drunk for 2 days and that is fine. I was really really sorry that you showed up in the summer when it was 105 degrees . . . I was so so so sorry that our ice maker and fridge were not working and not accessible.”

It would seem obvious that there are better places to spend your money, especially since the chance of you receiving your deposit seem incredibly slim. The most objectionable part of the terms has been removed, but only because it went completely public. At no time during the last two years did the Guest House take down this clause, which seems to indicate that it wasn’t the inside joke it’s now pretending it was.

I don’t know why this lesson even needs to be learned at this point. If businesses haven’t figured out that attempting to suppress bad reviews almost invariably only results in more bad reviews, this sort of stupidity and inevitable backlash should be viewed as nothing more than culling the herd. If you’d rather try to silence unhappy customers than address the problems in your own business, you deserve to have your reputation torched to the ground. But don’t blame the internet. This fire was started by the Union Street Guest House itself.

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Companies: union street guest house

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Comments on “New York Guest House Burns Own Reputation To The Ground By Trying To Charge Customers $500 For Bad Reviews”

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Monty Brewster says:

My 5 Star yelp review as Sara W.

recently posted on Yelp as Sara W.

Finally a Good and Honest Review of Union Street Guest House

“A few weeks ago I inherited $300,000,000 from an uncle I did not know I had. Apparently he wanted me to learn the value of money before I got the money. The catch was I had to spend $30,000,000 in one month and have nothing to show for it. No assets of any kind at the end of the month. If I was successful I would get the rest of the money.

Long story short I stayed my first night of the month in the union Street Guest House and invited a couple of very critical friends over to celibate my new fortune. I had not read the fine print of my stay and I guess my guest were a bit critical about this place in some reviews. We had a great time, but I think people were too filled up on lobster and champagne to write good reviews. Anyways, I now have won the rest of my inheritance from the extra charges. The problem I have now is how I will make it through the rest of the month with all $30 mil spent and nothing to show for it or live off the rest of the time until I get my $300 mil. 5 out of 5 would stay again, but I guess I’m rich enough to afford it.”

Scote (profile) says:

“If businesses haven’t figured out that attempting to suppress bad reviews almost invariably only results in more bad reviews,”

Do you have any objective data on that? Data that compares all business with written, or unwritten, policies of suppressing bad reviews by various means? I doubt anybody has any sound study one way or the other.

The oppressive policy apparently worked for at least two years. While it is great that a groundswell of publicity has caused it to backfire, I wouldn’t be surprised if such policies work more often than they fail, because there are only a limited number of stories that go viral.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Do you have any objective data on that?

He linked an example, and TD has reported on numerous other examples. It’s far more likely that for the past two years hardly anyone has even noticed the issue.

As a matter of fact, if you check out their Yelp page, amongst the hundreds of 1 star and joke 5 star reviews submitted today, you can go back and see the FIRST review from 4/7/2010 was a 1 star review, and there are other bad reviews (11/27/2012, 1/1/2013, 11/21/2013, 4/2/2014). Only one of them mentions getting threatened with $500. So if the policy “worked” why did 5 out of 13 reviews give it one star prior to the article pointing out the $500 charge?

So no, nobody has done a comprehensive study on review surpression, but that doesn’t make the conclusion any less true based on the examples we have seen. When you have data indicating supression of bad reviews causes negative backlash, and no data indicating otherwise, it’s kind of silly to establish the burden of proof based on theoretical “lost bad reviews” (cough similar to “lost sales cough).

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yeah, actually, it does.

“So no, nobody has done a comprehensive study on review surpression, but that doesn’t make the conclusion any less true based on the examples we have seen.”

Yes, actually, it does. Anecdotes don’t prove trends. For that you need science, and sound methodology. Tim may well be right, but with just anecdotes, he’s speculating, as are we all.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yeah, actually, it does.

Since I’m feeling pedantic today, I’ll just point out that the presence or lack of a comprehensive study doesn’t affect the truth of the assertion one way or another. The assertion is either true or not, regardless of studies.

What the lack of a comprehensive study does affect is whether or not the assertion can be proven true — but a thing can be true without being proven true.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, they can put the charge through, and point to their ‘policy’ as justification.

Then one gets into the issue of people denying charges on their cards, the credit card company getting involved, and the merchant agreement (how the retailer gets paid) become at risk as well.

There are a number of folks in the chain who can arbitrarily impose their point of view.

But it is a really stupid move.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The answer is, they can not “fine” you.”

Of course they can. You’ve signed a contract giving them that power. Such terms are enforceable and not entirely rare for certain types of contracts. I’ve signed many contracts that included performance clauses such that if I didn’t come through I’d get fined. So have you: if you have a bank account, you’ve agreed to a long list of things that the bank can fine you for: bouncing checks, etc.

They may not call it a fine (I’ve never seen that exact word used — it’s usually a “penalty” or “fee”) but that what it is nonetheless.

Rekrul says:

“This hotel was the best place I’ve even stayed! I only found 2-3 semen stains on the sheets, rather than the dozen or so I’ve found at other hotels. The food was so good that I only got sick once and the rats were much smaller and less numerous than the last place I stayed. The only thing keeping this from being a perfect experience was that through my own stupidity, I managed to misplace my Rolex watch, wallet, laptop and camera. I’m sure the hotel will send them to me as soon as they turn up. 5 out of 5 stars!”

Anonymous Coward says:

So how long will it be after the hubbub dies down before they reinstate their $500 charge for bad publicity? I mean that alone is enough to earn them plenty of bad reviews but add to it the unlikelyhood of getting a refund should things happen in your life unplanned doesn’t sound like a place I would ever want to do business with. I can’t imagine who might want to.

If the terms are this bad, then it is a reflection on the owner. Enough said.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because the inclusion of terms like this is becoming increasingly common, I have started actually reading the paperwork and objecting when I see such terms. I will not sign away my right to free speech just so I can stay at a particular guest house, see a particular dentist or doctor, etc. I have walked away from a few business because of this sort of thing.

I hope that as people become more aware of this sort of trickery, they will start paying more attention to what they’re signing and sticking up for their own rights. If that starts happening, we’ll see these terms die a silent death.

SolkeshNaranek (profile) says:

Change of heart - due to Internet backlash

Amid backlash, hotel rescinds $500 fines for “negative” online reviews

From the article:

In the face of the backlash, the company quickly amended its policy, which as of now reads:

Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not. This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer—therefore we expect you to explain that to them.

This is an improvement over “don’t give us negative reviews or we’ll fine you,” but it remains oddly stilted—there’s still a weird threatening undertone to how the hotel “expect[s] you to explain” the inn’s “vintage” condition to other members of your party.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Change of heart - due to Internet backlash

Hmmm. There is a possibility that they are trying to set expectations. If this is an historic building, the rooms may not qualify with what seasoned travelers expect for modern day rooms. I am not familiar with the property (an industry term for a specific hotel), but I have seen situations where, in older historically correct businesses, the bathroom is down the hall and other ‘atrocities’.

There are better ways to set expectations, like significant marketing materials that get sent to the planners, and all guest as they book their rooms.

The way they are trying, ain’t gonna work.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Change of heart - due to Internet backlash

If they’re expecting me to explain things to my friends and family, that’s time and effort I’m going to have to spend. I want to be compensated for that financially. Why should I take time out of my day to explain things about the guest house, when it should be the guest house doing it?
Silly me, I thought I was the one paying them to render me a service.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

the one that got me...

…was how THEY were bitching that someone bitched about not having ice during a 105 degree day !
yeah, how unreasonable is that: you go to a place SPECIFICALLY to celebrate/drink, and on a stifling hot day they don’t have ice ?
i don’t care WHAT the reason is, if you are a hotelier, you fucking run down to the min-a-mart or whatever and start carting bags of ice back to the hotel…
what kind of lame shit is that: ‘oh, our ice machine is broken, and we’re in the middle of NYC, so, no way we kind find any other source of ice…’
what a joke…

jmsbkk says:

Unhospitable hospitality

Hospitality bullying or worse here. And consider my case…..
I am currently in hiding for fear of returning home after experiencing an intense period of threats and intimidation from a major US international hospitality corporation. This is the result of long-term attempts to publicize: the company’s wide-ranging violations of international / local rules, regulations and laws; the breaking of company codes; most importantly, the fact that this hospitality specialist is knowingly operating at least one seriously illegal hotel.
For further information:
What has caused the hospitality industry to become so inhospitable? Arrogance? Insecure or egotistical CEOs? Greed? Corruption?

btr1701 (profile) says:


> If you stay here to attend a wedding and leave us
> a negative review on any internet site you agree
> to a $500. fine for each negative review.

I’ve never understood how these people even think they can enforce this sort of thing. If I stayed there and really wanted to post a negative review, I’d just get my wife or son or next door neighbor to do it for me.

“My friend stayed at the Union Street Guest House last weekend, and you wouldn’t believe what happened to him…”

The person posting the review isn’t the person who stayed at the inn and agreed to the contract, so they have no recourse against him. Such a simple way around these things, it’s a wonder why they even bother even if there was no such thing as the Streisand Effect.

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