I didn’t smoke in my room. Why is Hilton charging me a $250 cleaning fee?

By | January 28th, 2017

To celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary, Armen and Anna Balyan checked into the Hilton Garden Inn in Calabasas, Calif. When they checked out, they were surprised by an unwanted gift from the hotel: a $250 cleaning fee for allegedly smoking in their hotel room. Balyan says they didn’t do it.

The Balyans’ case is a warning that even the appearance of smoking in a hotel room can result in cleaning fees. Hotel guests who don’t want to incur these extras need to avoid bringing anything into their rooms that could suggest that they smoked in those rooms, such as ashtrays and cigarette butts.

When the Balyans arrived at the hotel, Anna Balyan decided to remove the trash from their car, including a plastic bottle Balyan had used as a holder for cigarette butts. She brought the trash inside their room and threw it in the garbage can.

According to Balyan, he and his wife had requested a nonsmoking room (we don’t understand why) and did not light up at all during their stay.

Ten hours later, they checked out – and discovered the $250 charge.

Here’s Balyan on what happened next:

I informed them we threw [the bottle containing the cigarette butts] in the trash but I couldn’t have smoked all those cigarettes within that time frame. Why would I leave it in the room when I’m the one who requested a nonsmoking room?

They did not care at first. They said they have pictures and videos of me smoking. I told them that’s completely false and fraudulent and an invasion of privacy if they are recording and videotaping customers in their room. Then they said they don’t have that. Ultimately they did not care what I had to say and stated that they won’t remove the charges.

They claimed there was a smoke smell after checking out which is completely false and fabricated because I did not smoke. They also said that I admitted to smoking to one of their managers and that the conversation was taped. I told them that’s completely false and fabricated and to please pull the tape and to hear it because I never said that. Again, they indicated they can’t do that.

They are fabricating and making up evidence against us and I truly hope you can help me put a stop to what they are doing. Please understand this is not about the money, I paid over $200 just to sleep for ten hours. If I had smoked in the room I would take the responsibility and the lesson. But I didn’t and they can’t get away with hustling people out of money like this. The only reason they did this is because they were looking for an excuse and found the water bottle with a lot of cigarette butts. They used it to get more money. The water bottle does not indicate that I smoked in the room. Just because we used the trash, we should not be duped or penalized for it.

Balyan claims that he spoke to two managers at the Hilton Garden Inn, neither of whom was willing to help. He also says that he was disconnected twice, which he was told was the result of accidents, and that when he called the Hilton Garden Inn back his calls went to voicemail.

In addition to disputing the cleaning charge on his credit card, Balyan contacted our advocacy team. (He might have escalated his complaint to Hilton using our executive contact information.) His request for our assistance indicated that his desired resolution was “[to] make a statement, to get the penalty back, and to stop them from doing this to other people.”

Unfortunately for Balyan, Hilton properties set their smoking policies individually, and the Calabasas Hilton Garden Inn has a 100 percent smoke-free room policy. Its staff would have no way of verifying that the cigarette butts that Balyan’s wife threw in the trash were not smoked during the Balyans’ stay. Balyan’s defensiveness and accusations of fraud and fabricating evidence were not appropriate in the context of his request for assistance and would not have moved the hotel’s managers to view his case favorably.

Our advocates reached out to Hilton on the Balyans’ behalf, but we weren’t hopeful of resolving the case in any way that would have satisfied Balyan. However, he has since notified us that his credit card company has secured a refund from Hilton of the smoking charge.

  • Alan Gore

    It’s easy for a hotel to find out that sometimes smoked in a nonsmoking room. At the same time, I t’s impossible to prove that you didn’t smoke. That’s an ideal situation for those wishing to charge a fee.

  • Koholaz

    In defense of the hotel, smoking in an enclosed vehicle for enough time to collect a number of cigarette butts is very likely to cause the person’s clothes and hair to absorb the smoky smell. It may be quite accurate that the room smelled like smoke when the OP left. Just walking behind a smoker in the open air can be very unpleasant!

  • Byron Cooper

    The OP and his wife brought the cigarette butts into the room in a hotel that had a no-smoking policy. Smokers are often not aware of the stench from the cigarettes they smoke and how difficult it is to remove that stench. $250 seems like a reasonable charge. If they did not smoke in the room, there was no reason for them to bring the butts into the room. They could have found a garbage can outside the hotel or kept them in the car until they had time to dispose of them. If I were the next guest, I would have refused to check into the room. This may not be the end of the story. Hilton may refuse to rent to the OP again when they become aware of the charge back.

  • Blamona

    Cigarettes in trash at a 100% smoke free room is enough to charge. The butts have smell to them too, wether smoked there or not– if butts are in the trash, they can’t prove they didn’t smoke there and should pay the fee. Makes no sense, always trash cans outside, why take it to the room? Shouldn’t have helped them! (I’m so snarky lately, sorry)

  • ctporter

    I stayed two nights at that hotel last week and found all the staff to be above average in how they interacted with me, so I was very surprised to see this accusation against the hotel and staff. It most certainly is absolutely contrary to my own experience with them.

  • cscasi

    I can attest to that. Our administrative officer’s son came to visit the offices and as soon as he walked in, the whole area reeked of smoke. He always wore that jean jacket around and you could smell it if he had been in the area; even minutes later. I can only imagine if one put one’s clothes in which he had been wearing while smoking; especially if he/she was a heavy smoker on a couch or chair; or even in a closet in the hotel room.
    Still, that does not mean either of the Balyans actually smoked in the room, but if there was the after smell of cigarette smoke and/or the presence of cigarette butts in the trash can, one could be led to believe that someone had been smoking in the room; especially the housekeeper when he/she entered the room.
    He is lucky he got the charge taken of his credit card. I guess the hotel did not want to contest the bank over the matter; perhaps because it could not be absolutely sure there had been actual smoking in the room. Hope this is a lesson to these folks.
    I hate walking into a hotel room that smells of cigarette or cigar smoke; especially when I always get a non-smoking room.

  • cscasi

    Good input.

  • Chris Johnson

    How obnoxious. I stay at Hilton properties a lot (mostly Hamptons, sometimes Garden Inns) and have always been pleased. Granted I don’t smoke in the first place so I likely wouldn’t run into this problem, but I was rather surprised by what I read. Forget about the physical evidence for a moment, the fact that employees claimed there was video and taped phone conversation evidence of the guests smoking is not only ridiculous, that is highly unprofessional. Those employees, whoever they are, need to either be fired or at least be re-educated on how to treat guests, and the corporate office needs to have a serious discussion with the property’s management or franchisees (if it is a franchised property) about how the employees are trained.

  • William Leeper

    This property is not 100% smoke free, but the room was. Even so, how should disposing of garbage be evidence of violating their policy? Every every smoker I know would flush their butts down the toilet.

  • California is a two party consent state when it comes to recording people. If the hotel did record the conversation it would be illegal without the OPs knowledge and consent. This is the aspect about the story that I find most disconcerting.
    Maybe OP should contact the California attorney general about the hotel claims. Either they are illegally recording people or they are committing fraud by telling people they are doing it.

  • cscasi

    “They did not care at first. They said they have pictures and videos of me smoking. I told them that’s completely false and fraudulent and an invasion of privacy if they are recording and videotaping customers in their room. Then they said they don’t have that.”
    They admitted that they were not recording him. He admitted that and so this is a moot issue.
    As for recording his conversation, I am sure it was not unless they told him in advance the call would be recorded. That is why they told him that they could not give him a copy of the conversation recording. They were just trying to get him to admit guilt, IMHO.

  • In California it is a criminal offense to record someone without permission. California actually has privacy as part of its constitution.
    The fact that the people at the desk were willing to either break the law or lie about it is enough to question their other claims of smoking.
    One thing is clear – the person that the OP talked to is dishonest.

  • MarkKelling

    If the actions of the renter left the room smelling of smoke, then cleaning was required above and beyond that normally done when a guest leaves to remove that smell. The cost is justified same as if you brought your pet into the room and it messed the floor or you do anything that causes the hotel to spend more time and money and possibly losing a night’s rental while the cleaning was being done.

    While there are lots of people who don’t care about the smoke smell either because they are smokers, live with smokers, or truly just don’t mind it, I would bet the majority of people staying at any hotel who actually want a nonsmoking room would not accept a room that had a smoky smell to it. Many smokers just don’t understand that when they smoke, especially in a confined space like their car, the odor permeates their clothing and does rub off on anything they later sit on and is left in any room they enter. I don’t know any smokers, so I’m not aware of what they do to conceal their smoking. The mistake made in this case was bringing in the cup filled with butts. That alone could have made the entire room smell like the aftermath of a fire at a cigarette factory.

    As far as the property being 100% smoke free, exactly where could you smoke at a Hilton Garden Inn? All enclosed space at every one I have stayed at are completely off limits for smoking. The outdoor picnic area is smoke free. The front sidewalk has signs saying no smoking. You might be able to smoke way out in the parking lot away from the buildings. To me, this is about as close to 100% non-smoking as you can get.

  • MarkKelling

    So then you cannot have security cameras around your property in California? They record any and every one passing by. No consent to record is possible.

  • Record conversations. The hotel stated that they had a recording of OP admitting to the manager that he smoked.
    Either they broke the law or committed fraud. Either way you can’t trust the property.

  • Carchar

    I often take garbage from my car when I check into a Hilton Garden Inn, but j i

  • Rebecca

    As a former smoker, I can tell you that smokers know. I always used to say I enjoyed smoking, but I hated being a smoker. That’s why – you have to go find a place to smoke, then you reek. I honestly probably wouldn’t have quit if I didn’t have kids. But even if I didn’t smoke around them, my clothes, hair, then eventually the house and car would smell like smoke.

  • JewelEyed

    Actually, that depends. If they have audio and video at the desk and (most likely) a sign saying that you are being recorded in that area and that’s where the conversation took place, that is not illegal. If there was a phone call and it says “This call may be monitored/recorded for quality assurance” and you stay on the line, that’s not illegal either. But if they claim they had stuff they didn’t hoping he would confess, that is sketchy.

  • pauletteb

    Sounds as though his attitude was a major part of the problem. Also, I’m sure there were other receptacles available for the trash before they got to the room that would have been much smarter options. Regarding why smokers would request a nonsmoking room, my boss’s wife is a heavy smoker but won’t stay in a smoking room (even when available) because of the accumulated stench. She either goes to a smoking area or outside.

  • pauletteb

    Cigarette smokers reek . . . period.

  • pauletteb

    We only have his word regarding what the employees claimed.

  • pauletteb

    He has offered no proof to substantiate his claims . . . pure he said/she said.

  • MarkKelling

    The OP stated that the hotel told him this. We don’t have the hotel’s side of the story anywhere in the article.

  • Byron Cooper

    No, I take care of people who are dying of lung cancer, emphysema, and other smoking related diseases. Smoking is banned from most public places and should be. If someone wants to smoke in a hotel room, I should not have to be exposed to it as the next hotel guest. I don’t think this web site should be an advocacy site for smokers rights. I don’t know whether the OP smoked in the room, although that is probable since most people don’t carry cigarette butts around as souvenirs. The room probably stank after he checked out. There is a cost to cleaning the room.

  • Rebecca

    To be fair, Chris has said over and over here he agrees with you and smoking should be banned pretty much everywhere.

    As a former smoker that lived in CA, I can tell you that you have to put the butts somewhere in your car, because you can’t throw them out the window. It’s dangerous due to wildfires – and CHP especially will pull you over and write you a hefty ticket. I always had an old water bottle or soda can with cigarettes in it. I do believe the OP they brought it in to throw it out. You can’t let it get to full or it gets a hole and just try cleaning that mess.

  • Bill___A

    It is ill advised to dispose of cigarette butts in a garbage can, particularly in a non smoking hotel room. Furthermore, smokers do have that smell about them, which is a byproduct of the habit. It is something they (smokers) need to learn to deal with. Their habit is not welcome in many places and I certainly don’t hold this one against Hilton. Although – funny story – a Hampton Inn tried to charge me $5 extra for a non smoking room in the early 90’s. That attempt cost them tens of thousands of dollars in revenue over the ensuing years. How things change.

  • finance_tony

    Can I get a cookie for not setting fires to my neighbors’ houses? Or for not running red lights?

  • PsyGuy

    What’s worse are the vapors.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s a two party consent state in terms of recording a conversation over a telephone, etc. But are you kidding anyone with a recorder or camera can record anything they want. You have no expectation of privacy in public areas of the hotel.

  • michael anthony

    Likewise, you only have the hotels word regarding what the OP claimed.

  • michael anthony

    They didn’t bring in the butts in a cup, it was brought in a bottle. Most bottles have caps, which would take care of the odor. My guess is they saw the butts and ASSUMED they had smoked in the room.

    Unless they charge for odors, such as body odor, too much perfume, a day laborer in a serious need for a shower, why is it acceptable to change for only certain odors, especially when they do not have 100% proof. Lots of orders linger and are irritating to others.

  • michael anthony

    “I don’t think this Web site should be a an advocacy site for smokers rights”. As someone who reads this site daily, this charge for smoking in rooms has become frequent and most of the requests for assistance comes from non smokers. If a hotel suspects you have smoked, you get hit with the charge and the hotels dig their heels in.

    I’m sure there are many instances where people think advocates should not step in to assist because of personal or professional bias. I would think an advocacy site wouldn’t pass judgement, but would advocate for an OP who may have been harmed. For example, I’m sure there are many against gay marriage. If Trump and Pence get their way, any public service will be allowed to refuse them service for religious reasons. I would expect the site to stand up for the consumer, if they have been wronged. A true advocate always leaves bias out of the picture.

  • The law says differently. Look it up.

  • Annie M

    Smokers sometimes don’t realize that their clothing sometimes smell like cigarettes. There is a slight possibility that odors from their clothes could have been detected in the room (although I am more apt to believe they lied about that too, since the hotel seems to have lied about a lot of the story.)

  • El Dorado Hills

    All of the pertinent points on this issue have been covered by previous responders but I feel obligated to reinforce their comments. It will be obvious that I am a non-smoker (reformed) and do not have a lot of tolerance for those who do and interfere with others. Being able to smoke where you want and when you want is not a right given by a higher deity. People who smoke don’t realize (or don’t care) how obnoxious smoking and the residue (smell) they leave behind. Ever had to ride in a vehicle owned/used by a full time smoker – even if they don’t smoke while you are in the car? Ever had a waitress/waiter come to your table to take your order after just coming off a smoke break?
    In this situation two smokers, who apparently smoked in the car while driving to the hotel, checked into a non-smoking room. Have they no idea what they must have smelled like – enough to result in a charge from the hotel even without the dumb act of taking a plastic bottle of cigarette buts and dumping the contents in an open trash container. What did they expect – but the time they checked out between their smelling clothes and the cigarette buts laying open the trash container – what did they expect? The problem is that steady smokers are oblivious to the odor they create and leave behind.
    I don’t believe that Hilton refunded the fee – but the actions of his desk clerk may be part of the problem. If he was smart he would have taken the couple back up to the room and with all three standing there get them to try and tell him there is no residue odor so cigarette smoke the room. The minute the cleaning personnel enter the room and smell the problem they should have a manager come up – before any cleaning is done. The Baylans were lucky go get anything back, period.

  • Bill___A

    All of it is bad. I expect any hotel I stay in to be 100% non smoking and encourage them to take whatever efforts are necessary to keep things smelling clean, although it amazes me the many properties that put ashtrays right outside the doorway (even when it is against the law in many places to do so) .We are a long ways from being as smoke free as we should be, and there is a lot of stench associated with those 20% of people who smoke. Shame on Hilton for refunding it really.

  • PsyGuy

    I have no issues whatsoever heaping all the social ills of the world on smokers.

  • LonnieC

    I think at least part of the problem here is that many smokers do not realize how the smell of stale smoke remains on clothing, on ash trays, and perhaps on soda bottles holding butts. This may be the reason that the OP brought butts into a non-smoking room. I’d bet that someone from the hotel staff entered the room, smelled the stale smoke, and concluded that the OP smoked in the room. And because the hotel then had to clean the smell out of the room, the OP should have been charged.

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    What smokers do not realize is that they and their clothes reek of smoke. Clearly the OP had been riding in their car smoking as proven by the bottle of cigarette butts. Their clothes smell of smoke. This odor stays with them and their clothes. Hang up the clothes or throw them on the floor and the room takes on the odor.

    What all that nonsense from the hotel was about with videotape and recorded admissions of smoking is about, I couldn’t imagine.

  • DChamp56

    Wow, this person actually believes his clothing, and body/hair doesn’t reek of smoke after being in a smoke-filled car?

  • Bill___A

    I was just loading groceries in the back of our car with my wife. There is one person walking in the entire part of the parking lot that we’re in. She HAD to make sure to walk within about two feet of our car, cigarette in hand, coating the both of us with tobacco smoke, not a care in the world. Most inconsiderate group of people on the planet, bar none.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    Why would anyone clean their car of cigarette butts and take it into a Non-Smoking room is beyond me. There are plenty of trash cans in any Hotel lobby even in elevators, and on hallways before entering a room. Wouldn’t had been easier to dispose of that bottle before taking occupancy of the room?

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    Smokers have NO ideea, how badly their entire car, clothing everything where they smoke can smell.

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