New York hotel fines guests $500 for bad reviews on Yelp (updated)

Above: People Love Us On Yelp

Image Credit: Michael Dorausch

Updated 12:40 p.m. ET and 3:05 p.m. ET with comments from Yelp, Trip Advisor, and the hotel.

File this one under “hotels that don’t ‘get’ social media.”

A Hudson, New York hotel has an interesting policy for wedding guests: For every negative review left on Yelp, the company fines the bride and groom a hefty $500. The policy was first reported by Page Six.

The hotel in question, the Union Street Guest House, described the official policy on its website as a solution to unappreciative guests. Later, the hotel removed the warning and said it was just a joke. Here’s what the policy stated before it was removed [emphasis ours]:

If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here. Therefore: 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

Kindly, the Union Street Guest House promised to refund this fee “once the review is taken down.” That’s nice. However, a quick look at the hotel’s Yelp page reveals significant backlash over the policy.

Here’s what the original warning looked like on the hotel’s site:

hotel yelp

Later, Yelp responded to the news, saying that its service exists to “warn consumers about bad business behavior such as this.” Here is Yelp’s statement, in full:

For ten years (this month), Yelp has provided a platform for people to exercise free speech and warn consumers about bad business behavior such as this. Yelp fights to protect free speech for consumers and against efforts to intimidate or stifle it. Trying to prevent your customers from talking about their experiences is bad policy and, in this case, likely unenforceable anyway.

We encourage people to share their first-hand experiences; reviews that are contributed as a result of media attention and do not reflect first-hand experiences run counter to Yelp’s Terms of Service and will be removed from the site.

Also reached for comment, hotel reviews site Trip Advisor issued a similar response:

It is completely against the spirit and policies of our site for any business owner to attempt to bully or intimidate reviewers who have had a negative experience. We have sent this property correspondence addressing that issue.

The Union Street Guest House did not return VentureBeat’s requests for comment on the matter by phone or email. The legality of this policy is not clear, but the incident is reminiscent of the case “Palmer v. Kleargear.com,” in which a retailer was charged for issuing a fine following a negative review, as one Reddit user pointed out.

More information:

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59 comments
Lara Kulpa
Lara Kulpa

So many better ways to handle their reputation. They should call me. Lol

All Man Corp
All Man Corp

it is legal, if the "fine", is the denial of privileges, not actually charging extra money.

Klancy Kennedy
Klancy Kennedy

Don't services like Yelp have a usage policy that prohibits retaliation?

Rachel Poor
Rachel Poor

Yelp is such a scam, it is amazing they are still in business!

Travis Bailey
Travis Bailey

Anti-SLAPP laws make this response fairly untenable.

Jeff Brokaw
Jeff Brokaw

I suggest watching Terms & Conditions on Netflix. A whole documentary about this sort of stuff.

Luis Miguel Silva
Luis Miguel Silva

Why wouldn't this be illegal? As long as it is part of the contract you sign when ordering a room there. They will face the consequences of such a bad policy so...why would it be illegal? The market will punish them :)

Alex Zhang
Alex Zhang

Naomi maybe moonpad can use this tactic

VentureBeat
VentureBeat

Updated again: Yelp & Trip Advisor respond to the news

Arka Roy
Arka Roy

I give them a bad review right here in this comment for being shitheads. Bring on the fine.

David Paul
David Paul

Clearly NOT a publicity stunt as that language has been on that page since 2012 according to web.archive.org.  Plus, if you look at the rest of that page (the part they haven't taken down now), you can see it's consistent with their entire attitude, like it's a privilege to stay with them,and they'll think about maybe giving you part of a refund as long as you let them know over two months in advance, and even then, it's just "maybe".  They're glad to take all your money up front though.  Not mine.

Holli Anne Hart
Holli Anne Hart

I believe that's called infringing upon people's 1st Amendment rights. And it won't hold up in court. Shame on this hotel!!!! Maybe they need to provide a better experience & better customer service...before they are out of business!!!

VentureBeat
VentureBeat

Update: The hotel says it was just kidding about the threat. Right...

Tom Penne
Tom Penne

They posted a new statement on Facebook; 


"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."

Neil Jackson
Neil Jackson

They can write whatever they like in a policy.... anyone with half a brain would just go elsewhere.

Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald

how can they charge you after you left there place of business? do they still have you credit card number to use when they want ? and isn't that stealing?...you didn't allow them to take money from your credit card for that

David Rutherford
David Rutherford

The question is have they actually fined anyone or is this just an excellent marketing ploy being picked up by every media outlet in America? Who needs Yelp when you have bored Journalists and bloggers on a Monday?!

Michael Remy
Michael Remy

Why go back so you can get ripped off a second time? Dumb

Michael Baker
Michael Baker

Oh man are they getting hammmmmered on Google and Yelp right now... bad bad bad things

Starter Noise
Starter Noise

This is bad for business, because it backfired in every way possible. Now, not only did their fines end up in MORE bad reviews on Yelp, it also ended up in the news. What the heck were they thinking??

James E Benson
James E Benson

Someone should advise them to just spend $500 advertising on Yelp and watch how bad reviews "magically" get buried. Much less publicly damaging

Gregory Floyd
Gregory Floyd

It is not legal to charge someone's credit card for something that they did not purchase or a service they didn't receive. I'm going to assume that it's also not legal to charge someone's credit card for something that happened which isn't the responsibility of the patron. If they continue playing games like this, the hotel will likely have their credit card machine revoked by Visa/MC and AMEX. No hotel can survive as a cash-only business. 

Lin Yang
Lin Yang

well, they neee to get money from somewhere to pay yelp to remove the bad reviews anyhow.

Mikita Mikado
Mikita Mikado

Wow! if that is legal (which is something I doubt), Yelp and Booking.com are in a big trouble

Julie Gladu Hall
Julie Gladu Hall

Like the customer Uber rating! I'm obsessed. I always ask the uber driver what my rating is!

Jake Harris
Jake Harris

I'm curious if this is a publicity stunt? Or pay my 500 each and ill wrote good reviews, but threaten guest with a fine interesting way of approaching things.

Caleb Bowers
Caleb Bowers

I heard about this this morning on the news. Consequently it stated that the hotel did not have great reviews. I believe that with all the bad press that they receive from this that they will regret it.

Scott French
Scott French

Oh shit if they were worried about Yelp they might have to shut down do to this post lol

Mario Barreiro
Mario Barreiro

do they also pay $500 for good reviews. fyi if you get bad reviews on yelp its because you deserve them..

Loren Fykes
Loren Fykes

A great publicity stunt. They even got covered by Venturebeat! :-)

Stephen Abbott
Stephen Abbott

The fine automatically invites a negative review, ironically.

Joshua Darlington
Joshua Darlington

Business owners see yelp as free advertising. Now that they are aware of the app they are doing everything possible to game the system.

R P
R P

The 1st Amendment only protects you from the Government infringing your right to free speech. Private citizens and businesses/companies sure can censor or delete what you say if they don't like it. It may not be the best thing to do but there is no law against being a jerk.

Garth Chouteau
Garth Chouteau

How does this fall under the definition of "excellent marketing"? I suppose if you believe the old saw "any publicity is good publicity" this would somehow make the cut, lol


The reality is that this little hotel has just gotten more attention in two days than in the previous two years -- and ALL of that attention is negative! Anyone hearing about the hotel is hearing about it in the context of this draconian, condescending, user-unfriendly policy. Do you really think people are hearing/reading this news and thinking "gee, I've been looking for a mediocre B&B in Hudson NY that has capricious, arbitrary guest policies -- I'd better make my reservation now before they're booked up for the year!" ?? 

Wayne Gotti
Wayne Gotti

Sure they can, just like the "by the hour" ultra classy motels.