An Indiana hotel customer claims she was charged $350 and threatened with legal action after leaving a negative review about her stay.
On December 15, the story caught the attention of the Indiana Attorney General's office, which filed a lawsuit against the hotel alleging it violated the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.
Katrina Arthur and her husband visited the Abbey Inn and Suited in Brown Couty in March 2016. "We were just wanting to get away and have some alone time," Arthur told WRTV. "It looked really pretty on the website."
But when they arrived, the hotel didn't meet their expectations.
"It was a nightmare," Arthur said. "The room was unkempt, and it looked like it hadn't been cleaned since the last people stayed there. We checked the sheets and I found hairs and dirt."
She claimed the room smelled like sewage, had low water pressure and no working air conditioner. When they looked to explain the room's situation to a staff member, no one could be found.
"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 said. "I actually had to clean the room myself."
After their stay, Arthur received an email from Abbey Inn asking her to post an online review, so she shared her honest feedback.
"I wanted people to know not to waste their money because I know people save their money for special occasions," she said.
After posting the review, Arthur said the hotel charged her debit card $350 and threatened legal action via a letter. She found similar complaints about the hotel's practice and filed a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General in an attempt to reclaim the $350 charge.
The state Attorney General's office filed a lawsuit against the hotel's management group, Abbey Management, on Dec. 15, claiming that the hotel violated Indiana's Deceptive Consumer Sales Act by enforcing an "unfair, abusive and deceptive" policy.
That policy, which Abbey Inn held from September 2015 to November 2016, allowed it to charge customers $350 if they posted a negative review of the business.
"Guests agree that if guests find any problems with our accommodations, and fail to provide us the opportunity to address those problems while the guest is with us, and/or refuses our exclusive remedy, but then disparages us in any public manner, we will be entitled to charge their credit card an additional $350 damage," the policy read, according to the lawsuit. "Should the guest refuse to retract any such public statements legal action may be pursued."
The lawsuit claims that the hotel never provided a copy of this policy to guests and the email requesting online reviews did not warn customers of the consequences for posting a critical message.
As the suit moves forward, it will determine whether Arthur will receive the $350 she was charged, and it may give former customers of Abbey Inn a reimbursement after they were hit with negative review fees under this policy.