Imagine you and your family have planned a trip of a lifetime. You finally get to your destination and discover that your supposedly luxurious hotel room is dirty and has mould. What do you do? Do you immediately write a bad review - potentially defaming the hotel and opening yourself up to being sued, or do you try and resolve the issues through the correct channels? In this week’s show, we look at what Google has to say about this problem. To properly address this, we’ve then consulted with a lawyer to find out what they recommend and how they would deal with this.
You could react EMOTIONALLY…Option #1 = Don’t Stay...followed by…Option #2 = Write a review…
OR you could look up on Google yourself and find advice like this:
Your consumer rights are covered under Australian Consumer Law:
If you elect to keep searching on Google, you should definitely check out this article that appeared in Choice magazine which talks about your consumer rights including:
Please also be aware that any negative review you post could open you up to legal action. A very recent case about a dentist shows that negative online review can be legally and successfully challenged. Take note trolls! In this matter, the dentist successfully sued a patient about a negative review. See: Dentist sues patient for defamation over online review.
You can read what others have said on this topic here. For example, defamation lawsuits can arise for giving poor reviews on Trip Advisor or Air BnB, etc.:
Make your dissatisfaction known to the manager/owner immediately. The person responsible for the hotel room needs to be given a fair chance to respond to your grievance. Plaintiffs are supposed to mitigate their loss, and part of this is preventing the issue from getting worse (which might happen if you choose to sleep in a mould or spore-ridden space).
In the very preliminary stages, it would be prudent to take some fast smartphone photographs/video of the mould
A room full of mould is an unpleasant situation and one which guests need to be compensated. Negotiation strategists recommend listening to what the other side offers before making demands. However, the hotel’s offer should be substantial. Offering a 10% discount is not satisfactory. Neither are an offer of free breakfast or one to clean the mould there and then.
At the very minimum, changing to a better room/suite is an option. This will be subject to availability and is arguably not sufficient compensation. However, it does solve the immediate issue of needing a room. It is not uncommon for hotels to provide the new room for free, or an upgrade, or to add other incentives such as a “stay for free next time” voucher in addition to the room change.
Chances are that a serious mould infestation has ruined your interest in staying in the location for the night regardless of which room is offered. If you are in a place where other hotels are available at late notice then it is probably a good idea to ask for a complete refund. In terms of contract law, the presence of heavy mould is almost always likely to be a fundamental breach of the agreement allowing the innocent party to terminate the contract and seek compensation. As point 4, you should seek these remedies immediately as soon as you have discovered the mould.
In the event, the hotel management is being uncooperative, or perhaps doesn’t have the staff to help at that time, and/or doesn’t have any available (mould free) alternative rooms, you will need to make a decision to leave the room. Before you do that, you should take the opportunity to collect more evidence of the situation. Take more photos of the mould and even a photograph of you trying to compromise with staff. You may also want to make sure you have a copy of the advertising materials and claims made by the hotel prior to booking.
Write a letter of demand. In the event, you were unable to achieve a satisfactory compromise with the hotel, and where you have suffered loss (particularly financial loss such as the cost of an alternative hotel and associated costs [such as a taxi between the two hotels]), you will need to write a formal communication to the hotel. This message should be written as concisely as possible and explain the events of the hotel stay and mould in chronological order and also list your losses. While there have been some cases where holidaymakers have been compensated for “damages for disappointment and distress” or “loss of enjoyment” (See in Australia - Baltic Shipping Company v Dillon (1993) 176 CLR 344) on the whole these damages would only be possible in relatively extreme cases.
Ideally in your letter of demand, you should provide the hotel management with a reasonable time to decide for themselves. Something like “Please acknowledge receipt of this letter and pay the amount of $X within 21 days otherwise we have instructions to initiate court proceedings with no further notice” is standard wording in a letter of compromise. There are many advantages of settling and avoiding the hassle of going to court. These include cost savings, time savings, the confidential nature of the settlement, and avoiding the uncertainty of the court.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Many people rush to write a bad review, and when the hotel types up a terrible customer review in return, both sides have lost face and allegations of defamation get thrown around. In response to the question of when to go to social media, government authorities, mass media, consumer reviews site and so on, the best advice would be to prepare to do so, but give the hotel a full chance to make amends. There’s no hurry. You can write your scathing report and show the hotel your photos, but at the same time, let them know that, at the moment, no adverse reviews have been posted. It often takes time for hotels to come to terms with their need to pay compensation. Be mindful of time limits of online reviews however.
If your case of hotel mould is extreme. Perhaps on a cruise ship or in a situation where there was no other accommodation, or where the room was booked for a honeymoon or someone suffered an extreme adverse health effect, see a lawyer. Ideally it would be better to see a practitioner who provides free consultation and works on a no win no fee basis.