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.

  • sirwired

    Agreed that this is a prime opportunity for a credit card dispute, especially if you can document all the unanswered contacts.

  • Alan Gore

    Something like this should be disputed right away as a fake charge. This gets the hotel in trouble with the credit card issuer, making it less likely that this will happen to another guest.

  • AAGK

    Bc “professional adults ” never accidentally break things nor do their professional kids.

    I would say 99.9999% of professionals would disagree.

  • AAGK

    Yes the hotel can charge her. No it does not need to prove it unless she disputes the charge. Then she may get the money back but the hotel may sue her directly and in that case it will have to prove that’s it is more likely than not that she used the mirror in some weird way during her stay that caused the damage. So long as she used it as one normally uses a mirror, then she would win that easily.

    Also, if the issue involves glass cleanup, that would have been noted right after checkout and she should have checked her bill closer to the stay for incidentals.

  • Annie M

    Why don’t people just do a credit card chargeback when they can’t get something like this rectified? I would have done that and then come here if that failed. I am betting it wouldn’t have failed. She had plenty of proof she tried to work it out.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Are hotels now going to start with the phantom damage scam like car rental firms? Will we now need to photograph every inch of the hotel room prior to checkout?

  • jmtabb

    I’ve actually stayed at this inn, a few months ago. The inn seemed to be in the middle of a fairly major reno on the upper floor. Would be curious to know when this happened and if it was in one of the older rooms or if the rooms they stayed in had been updated.

    No mystery charge on our part.

  • AAGK

    Every single time I leave a hotel, I request a folio on my way out the door and the final folio the following morning via email. Then I consider the matter closed.

  • AAGK

    That wouldn’t be an effective revenue stream for hotels. I’ve ever left a room without housekeeping banging on the door to get it anyway. I could care less if something in ththe room broke so long as I used it properly. If I broke a glass, I would just be concerned that housekeeping would get hurt. My credit card would probably just remove the charge if the hotel was too annoying about it.

  • Randy Culpepper

    The very first Google review for this inn is a complaint for an additional charge. I think this may be part of their business model.

  • Carol Molloy

    LaQuinta pulled this trick on me a few years ago when my daughter stayed in a room billed to my Amex card. They claimed she set fire to the curtains and punched a hole in the wall. I was in the room when she checked out, and knew the excess charges were bogus. Amex asked for proof from the Inn, and receiving none, reversed the charges. Easy solution. And I refuse to reserve rooms there anymore.

  • The Original Joe S

    You went to see Shakespeare? What’s a folio?

  • The Original Joe S

    Yup. Photograph the room before and after. Write ’em a note. If they ignore, chargeback on the credit card. Don’t beg these morons; hit ’em hard with the chargeback and let them them bleat.

  • joycexyz

    My thoughts exactly.

  • cscasi

    Most likely, it would just come back as proof, stating that the housekeeper went to clean the room and discovered the mirror cracked/broken, reported it and it was not that way when she cleaned the room before their stay; accompanied by a photograph of the mirror. I believe the bank would then reverse the chargeback based on the proof presented when answering the bank (provided that is what happened and the hotel was standing up for itself). Now, if the hotel was not being truthful, that’s another matter (the hotel could not prove the damage) and the chargeback should stand

  • The Original Joe S

    As I said, date/time stamped photos would override their position. I don’t deal with a bank; my credit union would back me up.
    They can lie all they want, but who is more believable: the maid who works for them, or the photos you take?

  • AAGK

    I don’t think that’s a quality more aligned with professionals than just being a decent human being. .

  • AAGK

    It’s the bill itemizing the hotel charges.

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