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Hotel's $500-fine policy for bad reviews gets low marks

The Union Street Guest House in New York faces Internet fury after its policy to fine wedding parties $500 for each bad review goes viral.

Union Street Guest House Facebook page
Union Street has taken a negative hit with Facebook reviews. Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Most businesses would love to find a way to wipe negative reviews right off the Internet. Some take the approach of getting in touch with the unhappy customer and trying to make amends. The Union Street Guest House, a historic hotel in Hudson, N.Y., hit on a different sort of tactic, and the approach has raised the ire of the Internet.

Union Street laid out an unusual policy notifying wedding parties that any bad online review posted by a guest will prompt the hotel to hold back $500 of the couple's deposit. So, if Uncle Frank attended your wedding there, didn't like the facilities, and complained on Yelp, it could cost you a lot of money. The hotel said it would refund the money if the bad review is removed.

While the hotel now calls the policy "a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago," here is the original review policy as it was stated online. It has since been altered:

Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not. This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer - therefore we expect you to explain that to them. USGH & Hudson are historic. The buildings here are old (but restored). Our bathrooms and kitchens are designed to look old in an artistic "vintage" way. Our furniture is mostly hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines. (although comfortable and functional - obviously all beds are brand new) 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 If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review. (Please NOTE we will not charge this fee &/or will refund this fee once the review is taken down). Also, please note that we only request this of wedding parties and for the reasons explained above.

We recommend that you tour our Inn before your wedding so that you will know the quality of our lodging.

Since the hotel's policy has come to the attention of the Internet at large, Union Street has been hit with a backlash. The hotel's Facebook page currently sports a 1.5-star-review total. Comments on a photo of the hotel's garden have ranged from vitriolic missives to more mild comments such as this one from Facebook user Jesse Ling: "You know what never looks good? Charging people outrageous fees for speaking their minds."

The Yelp page for the hotel has been hit even harder. It currently has a one-star rating and a slew of new reviews commenting on the wedding-party policy.

Some of the reviewers admit to never having been to the hotel. It takes 10 pages of reviews before reaching one left in late 2013 by Yelp user Rabih Z, who writes "The management of this hotel had the gall to email us twice to threaten us financially about the negative review!" This was a follow-up to a review written in September 2013 mentioning a musty smell and rudeness from the manager.

Union Street Guest House posted a short note on Facebook reading, "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." The hotel's website has now been updated with the fine information removed.

Crave reached out to Union Street Guest House for comment and received a copy of the message posted to Facebook in response. Crave has also reached out to Yelp user Rabih Z. and will update if there is a response.

(Via Page Six)