The hotel room wasn’t just dirty. It was “a nightmare,” the guest said.
The air smelled like sewage. Hair and dirt covered the bed sheets, as if the linens hadn’t been cleaned after the last guests had left the Abbey Inn & Suites room that Katrina Arthur and her husband were renting in Nashville, Ind in March 2016. The air conditioner and shower in the room didn’t work right, either, Arthur told WRTV.
“We were just wanting to get away and have some alone time,” Arthur told the TV station. “It looked really pretty on the website.”
But what Arthur and her husband found was far from pretty, they said. And when they complained about the hotel online, the hotel charged them $350 for the negative review, Arthur said — prompting Indiana’s attorney general to file a consumer protection lawsuit against the hotel on Dec. 15.
Before writing the review, though, Arthur had tried to make the best of the situation, she told WRTV.
“We didn’t see anybody we could talk with, so I decided to call the number that goes to the front desk and it automatically went to a lawyer’s or something weird like that,” Arthur told WRTV. “I actually had to clean the room myself.”
After Arthur and her husband had left the hotel on March 13, they got an email from the hotel asking for a review of their stay. So Arthur wrote what happened, according to the attorney general’s office.
Then the couple’s nightmare got worse, Arthur said.
Attorney Andrew Szakaly, who owns the hotel, wrote a letter to Arthur on April 2, 2016 telling Arthur that her negative review included “false statements” that had caused “irreparable injury” to his business, according to Indiana’s attorney general.
If Arthur didn’t take down the negative review, Szakaly threatened to file a libel lawsuit against her, according to the attorney general’s office.
“That scared me to death,” Arthur told WRTV. “So I went ahead and took it down.”
But just days later, on April 6, came a $350 charge to Arthur’s credit card, according to the attorney general’s office. The Inn had charged her for the negative review, in accordance with its guest policy, the attorney general’s lawsuit said.
The couple called the state’s attorney general to lodge a consumer complaint, which the state has now acted on, according to a copy of the lawsuit.
“Abbey Inn & Suites maintained a written policy stating if a consumer made any negative statement, including in an online comment or review, regarding their stay at Abbey inn & Suites, the Defendant would charge the consumer an additional $350.00 and pursue legal action against the consumer,” the complaint against Abbey Management Inc. says.
The lawsuit calls the hotel’s policy “unfair, abusive, and deceptive” — and a violation of state law. The written policy cited by the attorney general’s office was posted to the hotel’s website, according to the attorney general, but that hotel site appears to be taken down.
There are federal protections for consumers posting negative reviews, too.
Congress passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act in December 2016, and it was signed into law by the president, making it illegal to ban honest reviews, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
“You have the right to post truthful negative experiences online and Congress is saying that right cannot be taken away from you, even if a company has required you to sign something that takes away that right,” Bradley Shear, a Bethesda, Md. lawyer specializing in social media and privacy, told NBC.
Other reviews of Abbey Inn in Nashville, Ind. on Yelp echo Arthur’s complaints about the room.
“Their website says to expect to be a bit rustic,” wrote Tim S. of Fort Wayne, Ind. in February 2015. “Rustic doesn’t mean run down. From the trash littering the entrance way, the towels with bleach stains, the sex toy under the bed, the anti-freeze container on the hot-tub (did they put it in the hot tub??), to the mold on the shower curtain and the cracked windows.”
Another reviewer said she had to clean the room herself, too.
“[T]here were 50-70 lady bugs in our room and NO thermostat,” Julie D. of Crown Point, Ind. wrote in October 2014. “[G]uest service gave us a freaking vacuum to get the bugs, made us do it ourselves and said there’s nothing they can do about it.”