Can a hotel charge you for damage that it hasn’t proven?

After her family’s stay at the Island Country Inn on Bainbridge Island, Wash., Camille Derricotte found an unexpected and mysterious charge on her credit card.

Derricotte’s experience is a reminder to carefully review credit card statements following a hotel stay. As Derricotte discovered, not all charges are accurate, and you might end up being unfairly charged for room damages that you did not cause.

“Upon review of my credit card statement later that month, it came to my attention that four days after checkout I was charged an additional $135 for which I had no knowledge,” Derricotte recalled.

Derricotte contacted the Inn, but there was no record of the charge. She was told that the charge would be investigated.

Over a week later, a clerk at the Inn contacted Derricotte. She was surprised to learn that the charge was for the replacement of a broken mirror in her hotel room. She had no recollection of a broken mirror.

Derricotte was staying at the Inn with her partner and her two adult children in adjoining rooms.

“I am certain that no mirror was broken upon our departure from our rooms,” she says. “My family and I are four professional adults, and if any of us had left any damage to our rooms we would take full responsibility.”

The clerk told Derricotte that she needed to speak with the assistant manager to resolve the matter. Derricotte was assured that the assistant manager, who had no direct phone number or voicemail, would follow up with her.

On its website, the Island Country Inn encourages potential guests to “escape the sameness of those chain hotels and experience the casual, yet professional appeal of our unique hotel.” Derricotte’s experience with the Inn was anything but unique and professional.

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She called and emailed the Inn several more times but never received a response. She filed a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau and then reached out to our advocates for help. Derricotte’s goal? Getting this erroneous charge reversed from her credit card.

Shortly after our advocacy team contacted the Island Country Inn, Derricotte received an email from the Inn’s public relations director. The email consisted of an apology for the delayed response and an assurance that the charge was being investigated and would be sorted out within a few days.

What options do you have if you’re faced with false charges after a hotel stay? As our advocates advised Derricotte, you can dispute the errant charge with your credit card company. Our advocates also suggested that Derricotte contact the Washington State Office of the Attorney General to file a complaint against the Inn. Filing a case in small claims court to recover the amount of the charge is another option that Derricotte can explore.

Without proof that Derricotte or a member of her family broke the mirror, the Inn should have refunded the charge. The mirror could have been broken by a previous or subsequent guest, or even a staff member.

The takeaway? Make sure that you check for errant credit card charges after staying in a hotel. You should also be sure to take note of the condition of your room upon check-in and before leaving. If you find any pre-existing damage, be sure to inform hotel staff and take pictures so that you won’t be charged for problems caused by other guests.

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At first, it seemed like our advocacy team was on track to help Derricotte resolve this matter. But, unfortunately, the Inn stopped responding to both our advocacy team and Derricotte. Because of this, we’re filing this as a “Case Dismissed.”

Claire Crowley

Claire is a Boston-based attorney, writer and legal analyst. She founded her business, Legal Travels, as a way to combine her love of travel and the law.

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