Trapped inside a hotel bathroom twice — and charged $900 for the hotel room damage!

Charge for his own rescue. Unauthorized hotel room damage charges.

After his first night in Atlanta, Greg Stafford just wanted to take a shower in the bathroom of his America’s Best Value Inn room. Moments after entering the bathroom, he discovered he was stuck — the door wouldn’t open. After he made multiple attempts to free himself, management finally came to his rescue — and charged him $1,000.  Stafford admits he caused the hotel room damage, but believes the hotel should take responsibility for his predicament. He wants his money back and he asked for our advocacy team’s help.

Trapped!

Stafford booked a four-night stay at America’s Best Inn, and he was trapped the morning after he arrived: “I tried pounding SOS on the walls, trying to take door off hinges, and eventually resorted to punching a hole in the wall to reach around and open the door from the other side, chewing up my arm pretty good. None of this worked. Eventually, someone complained about my pounding, and the manager had to cut the chain on the door, then pry the bathroom door open with a large screwdriver.”

While cleaning up the bathroom Stafford slipped and fell, accidentally kicking the door shut, and locked himself in again. The manager rescued him again, then accused him of being drunk and having a panic attack. Stafford says it was 11 a.m. and he had not been drinking.

Expensive hotel room damage

When Stafford decided to check out of the hotel a day early, the hotel manager demanded that he pay $1,000 for the hotel room damage, but refused to provide proof of the expenses. Stafford refused to pay and the manager threatened to call the police and have Stafford arrested. That’s when Stafford left the property and started his drive home.

On the way home, he received notifications on his phone that the manager tried to charge $1,000 to the credit card he had used to pay for the room, but his credit limit wasn’t high enough. So the manager made three smaller charges, all of which were approved: First, he charged $500, then $250, and finally $150, for a final total of $900.

Stafford contacted America’s Best Value Inn after his return home, but the company was not helpful. Owned by Vantage Hospitality, which itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of Red Lion Hotels Corporation (RLHC), America’s Best Value Inn responded that it is “a membership organization and all the hotels under our Brand are independently owned and operated as separate entities, we have no ownership in the hotels.”

The company apparently employs a “quality assurance director” who provides guidance to hotels in an effort to improve each property’s product and services, but it appears that the company retains no real power to enforce its standards. It promised to review Stafford’s claims with the owner, allowing the dispute to become a case of “he said, he said.”

The owner responds

The owner’s response was exactly as I would have expected:

The guest locked himself in the bathroom then he heavily damaged my new bathroom, wallpaper, door as well front door security latch. Broken. I had to rush & rescue him not once but twice. After I rescued him & left he went inside the bathroom again to take shower & jammed the broken door again. During this ordeal I fell down on the ground busted my knees. A police report has been made. Audio & video of the entire incident recorded as well as Mr. Gregg’s request not to call cops or ambulance when we offered, simply because he would have been arrested.

RLHC forwarded the owner’s email to Stafford and said it would “put it in the property’s file,” which I find laughable. Most people choose to stay at a “chain hotel” because they believe there is a standard of accommodation and service enforced by a parent company. In this case, guests are apparently staying at an independently operated property with no actual oversight, investigative process, or appeals process.

RLHC should have been willing to mediate the dispute and, at the very least, force the owner to provide actual proof of the amounts he charged to Stafford’s credit card.

Our advocacy attempts

We don’t list executive contacts for Vantage Hospitality or for RLHC on our website, but with its unwillingness to help Stafford, I’m not sure that it would help if we did. Our advocate and executive director Michelle Couch-Friedman reached out to RLHC on Stafford’s behalf, and it didn’t respond to multiple attempts to gain clarification of the owner’s position and proof of the cost of repairs.

Stafford hadn’t taken photos of the damage because he assumed that because the owner had to break him out of the bathroom, he knew the problem was with the door lock. He didn’t realize the owner was going to demand money from him or threaten him with arrest until he was trying to check out of the hotel.

The good news

Friedman asked Stafford if he had been in contact with his credit card company. He had not. Once he reported the issue to Capital One, it credited him for the charges and began an investigation. The hotel owner already ignored the appeals from Stafford and from Friedman — and now he ignored the investigation from Capital One.

While the owner clearly sympathized with his customer’s bathroom imprisonment and may have thought he was “above” acknowledging our questions, not responding to a chargeback has consequences. After its investigation was complete and it had had no response from the owner, Capital One sided with Stafford and gave him his money back.

We’re glad this worked out for Stafford, but he might have resolved the incident more easily if he had taken photos and documented the incident immediately. While it’s never fun to have to talk to the police in a situation like this, if you know you’ve done nothing wrong and a hotel is demanding money and threatening to call the police, let them. Get everything in writing, including proof of charges. And finally, if a hotel is demanding $1,000 from you and refusing to document the charge, call your credit card company immediately and ask for their help. It may keep you from waiting months on end to get your money back.

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