Q: Last December I stayed with my family at the DaVinci Hotel in New York. While we were out sightseeing one day there was a leak in the room on the floor above ours. We returned to the hotel to shower and dress for dinner and a show, only to find the staff sopping up water.
Our entire room was affected, along with the hotel’s furniture. Our clothes, suitcases and a Walkman were damaged. The manager told us to go to the show and they would have everything ready for us when we returned. We showered and dressed in the clothes that were not wet and left.
When we returned at about 11 p.m. our room was still a mess. It was so damp you could not walk on the carpets without soaking your socks. The beds were moist and the room smelled of a strong disinfectant.
I asked not to be charged for the room for that night and to be reimbursed for a pair of wool slacks which the hotel had tried to dry and had shrunk about five sizes.
I bought a new pair of slacks, which cost me $147. But the manager only knocked $50 off the bill. I would like to be reimbursed for the slacks and for one night’s lodging, which comes to a total of $337. Can you help me?
-- Michael Brutz
A: The DaVinci hotel agreed that there was a leak that affected your room. But it didn’t go along with the rest of your story.
In numerous phone conversations with hotel representatives, your account of the water-damaged slacks was called into question. Although you offered to show the hotel a receipt and furnish it with the names of the hotel employees who cleaned out your room, it steadfastly refused to believe you.
In a situation like this, your evidence is extremely important. Don’t allow the staff to send you away while they clean the room. Instead, take pictures of the damaged clothes and electronics. Get the employees’ names and phone numbers (after all, they’re witnesses to what happened).
You shouldn’t have bought a new pair of pants until you cleared the purchase with the hotel. Get approval from the manager in writing if possible.
Your story also shows how essential it is to resolve any dispute before you check out. Go to the hotel manager with the shrunken pants in your hand and politely tell him what you want. Don’t wait until you get home.
The hotel readily agreed to pay you back for the night of the leak. But a representative told me that unless you showed it the actual damaged pants, it wouldn’t cover the cost of your clothing. I found this to be a little odd. Did they really expect you to keep a pair of unwearable pants for several months?
Fortunately, you had kept good notes about the incident and offered to send the DaVinci copies of everything you had – names, descriptions of the hotel room, and other relevant details, plus the receipts. But the hotel wouldn’t budge.
At this point, you wanted to push ahead with a credit-card dispute and I advised you to take the free night and consider the case closed. But the DaVinci had other ideas. It offered to credit you $275.45, which represents the entire amount of your claim, minus the $50 it already gave you, as long as I sign a letter promising not to write a story about your incident.
This isn’t the first time a travel company has tried to quash an article about a dispute resolution. But the DaVinci added another incentive. “I do not believe the above mentioned amount is correct nor do I believe you are well informed about this matter,” hotel representative Robert Tirpak wrote in an e-mail. “Please note that from now on our lawyers will be monitoring this situation and we will take action against you and your company if you misrepresent the truth in your article.”
When I asked Tirpak if he could share the truth with me, he shot back a note saying: “Please don’t get me wrong, but my side of the story does not matter anymore. Have a very nice day.”
The DaVinci refunded your money anyway.
I’m happy to have helped you get your money back, Michael. But in my five years of helping resolve reader complaints, I can’t recall a case this strange. If the DaVinci believed you weren’t telling the truth, then why did it offer a full refund? Why threaten me, even though I simply acted as an intermediary between both of you? Why turn a $147 claim into a federal case?
I guess Tirpak is right about one thing: It doesn’t matter anymore.