Hotel claims $500 bad-review fine was a joke

The New York inn's website previously said it would charge guests for every negative mention online.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 4, 2014 3:54PM
Credit: Courtesy of the Union Street Guest House via Facebook, www.facebook.com/pages/Union-Street-Guest-House/117548518271464

Caption: The Union Street Guest HouseBy Amy Langfield, CNBC

A hotel suddenly drowning in bad online reviews over a $500 fee for bad online reviews said Monday it was only joking.


"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," the Union Street Guest House said in an email to CNBC.


Earlier Monday morning, the hotel's website still displayed a policy highlighted in The New York Post: "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."


The Post story yielded dozens of one-star reviews on Yelp (YELP) and one from an anonymous poster who wrote: "That's funny. Yelp doesn't publish real reviews I've gotten that are positive but they'll publish all these negative reviews from people that have never been to the establishment."


Located near the Catskill Mountains in Hudson, New York, the hotel was built in 1830 in the Greek Revival style and offers free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and 500 thread-count sheets. Victoria Nelson, who runs the nearby Woodbine Inn and the Hudson Valley B&Bs hotline said that very rarely a guest will try to finagle a refund or discount by saying they'll post a bad review, but it's really up to the owner to run a shipshape operation to reduce that possibility.


"It's eye-opening and astounding and shows chutzpah that they would try to charge $500 for a non-disclosure," she said of the other hotel.


Even if the hotel wasn't joking, it may have had the desired effect.


"Legally it probably has the same effect as a no-smoking policy," said Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the First Amendment Center. "It's maybe more to do with intimidation than enforcement."


The policy doesn't fall under First Amendment laws because the inn is not operated by the government, so enforcement would likely fall under contract law as an agreement between the hotel owner and the customer, Policinski said.


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Tags: YELP
118Comments
Aug 4, 2014 6:08PM
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All online reviews should be taken with a grain of salt - there's a ton of fake ones out there....
Aug 4, 2014 9:59PM
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We stayed at a place a year ago that we booked through a travel company...we had traveled quite a distance and found a horrible place when we arrived. Because we were traveling on a tight budget booking another place wasn't possible. We made do for the 3 nights we were there. As we were traveling home I started reading the fine print in the paperwork we signed when we arrived...buried in the middle of it was a statement about the place having the right to sue us for $10,000 if we posted any type of negative review...thankfully, when we brought this to the attention of the booking company they gave us credit to spend elsewhere. While I agree people shouldn't be allowed to just post nasty stuff just because...I do think people have a right to know that a place is NOT as advertised.
Aug 4, 2014 10:31PM
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since people have been sued (sucessfully) for negative reviews after using a service, I don't think this was a "joke"  Anyone in business woud not post a stupid joke like this in their policy.  Think they

got called on it, and are trying to do damage control

Aug 4, 2014 7:43PM
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Yah, only now that somebody busted them for it.

Hotels charge you for MANY, MANY things you never even use.

-- READ YOUR INVOICE ----

before you leave the front desk at checkout.

You gave them your card at check IN so they all think they can just pack on the ammenities and you won't notice....50 % don't...and that's a huge money maker.

 

I got charged for gym & spa plus limo service !

We visited family the whole time..never set foot in the stupid spa.

We took the BART from the airport and walked three blocks to get there and back...limo ? what limo ?

The front desk dude looked at me dumbfounded...had no clue what to do about it because they do it to everybody and never got caught.

I taped the mini bar shut when we got there, I wonder what they thought of that ?

 

READ YOU INVOICES. THEY ALL TRY TO GET AWAY WITH SOMETHING. 

Aug 5, 2014 1:04AM
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I do not understand people who pay for services they do not receive. I stayed at a Fl hotel and when I received my bill there was a large charge for phone calls I had not made. I told the desk clerk I would pay for my room charges, but I was not paying for the phone calls. She said she would just charge the entire thing to my credit card. I left without signing anything or paying anything. I then called my credit card company and explained the problem. They did not pay for the phone calls, and I later received a letter of apology from the hotel manager. DO NOT BE BULLIED OR INTIMIDATED BY INCOMPETENT PEOPLE.
Aug 4, 2014 9:28PM
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Well even if it was a joke it's going to make a lot of folks think twice. Image is everything and they just tarnished theirs, especially with that posting still being up on their site.
Aug 5, 2014 1:11AM
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That's a joke?  Trying to put this off as if it were a joke, is a joke all in itself.  I wouldn't book this place if it were free.
Aug 4, 2014 7:10PM
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What I want to know is:  What kind of a person sits there and composes reviews for restaurants and other establishments that he/she hasn't even tried?  Is that how you gain resepct and customers for your own business, or are you such a mean-spirited evil person that you simply enjoy ruining other people for no good reason?  There are thousands of busiensses  sufferening from the bad review syndrome of Yelp and other on-line social media sites that almost bilk merchants out of money claiming to help them get out from under bad reviews by advertizing, and then when the good reviews fail to show up anywhere near the top of the charts no matter how many they get, they are told it depends of the reviewer's past performance.  Isn't that like admitting that the more bad reviews one makes up, the more weight they will carry?  These are almost pyramid schemes trying to get you to pay to recover from something that they are creating.  The other point is that people that take coupons and Groupons are somewhat difficult to please.  Even though they know they are getting their meal or hotel stay or other service for up to one half off, they still act like the dump they chose to give their business to is expected to be a five star restaurant or luxury hotel.  If you want five star, do you really believe they would be giving a groupon, people?  Give them a break.  Due to the discount in many cases bringing in an overwhelming number of guests all at once, at times the service or menu suffers.  You are part of the problem, so be a bit courteous and forgiving if you are getting a deal on the price.
Aug 5, 2014 12:17AM
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Did I miss something here?  I thought a "joke" was defined as something ...uh...funny, or perhaps, comical or humorous?  Did others find their verbiage in hotel's written policy to be a real knee-slapper? Is that what we call mad-capped shenanigans?  Oh, those wacky, wacky hoteliers! They just don't know when to quit, do they?  What a yuck-fest!! Hardee-har har!  Dang...why are they not doing stand-up at the Improv?  I haven't rolled on the floor like that in ages!  Thanks, Union St! Thanks for all the great laughs! :) :) :) 
Aug 4, 2014 8:28PM
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I think they are looking for free advertisement   sounds like a good reason to stay away
Aug 4, 2014 10:05PM
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Unfortunately there are to many people who like to write negative article just to be mean spirited.  In essence lying about particular business.  I split time between Chicago, Boston and the Tennessee basin and do a fair amount of traveling.  There is a Argentinian steak restaurant that I frequent that had a extremely negative review on Yelp that was funny.  The person claimed that the bartender was horrendous and served well vs top shelf when top shelf was requested.  They also claimed that their entire meal was horrible from the baked potato to the steaks and that the wine had started to turn.  There was two main issues with the review.  1. They don't have a bar, it is BYOB   2.  They don't serve potatoes...per owner they never have and never will. 

 

As for USGH, I stayed there about 3 or 4 years ago and I if nothing has changed their service is excellent.  I would not stay there if I were choosing because of the price but my girlfriend had been given a weekend stay. 

Aug 4, 2014 7:17PM
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That's the NEWEST SCAM.
Lets us  say you are a resturant owner, The scammer claims food poisoning, and they will post it on face book or another social media outlet unless you pay.
There are also companies that use the same ploy and sell it as a Media Relations Service,Reputation control,or some other social media related service
Aug 4, 2014 6:20PM
Aug 5, 2014 9:00AM
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I travel a lot for work. Prior to bookings a room at a hotel I have never stayed at I look at the reviews. I ignore the 5 star reviews because many times they from people associated with the establishment. I ignore the 1 star reviews because some people will always be dissatisfied. I focus on the reviews in the middle that tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly about the place. I have found these mid range reviews to be quite accurate and I am rarely surprised by the service of condition of the hotel.
Aug 4, 2014 5:54PM
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Usually a bad review is deserving for lack of service and character some businesses show neither of the good qualities.....
Aug 5, 2014 1:28AM
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Even IF this is a joke, read all of their policies...they are ridiculous.  I would never stay at this hotel.  There are too many other hotels out there that  actually want to provide a good experience and customer service..
Aug 5, 2014 8:32AM
Aug 5, 2014 11:26AM
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This is getting out of hand.  Any business, that uses this tactic to avoid negative reviews, is nothing but a coward.  Intimidating customers will only make them angrier and more likely to write that negative review. People have their rights to write what they think of a product and/or service, and if it is negative, well, tough luck to the companies. They just have to have better products and/or services then. 
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