HELEN, Ga. — The email from hotels.com seemed innocent enough. “How’s your room?”
Susan Leger’s response would result in her expulsion from the Baymont Inn & Suites by order of the police.
Leger had given the hotel three out of five stars. Hotels.com then asked, “What went wrong?” Leger replied that the hotel was “Rundown. Pool’s not open. Toilet doesn't flush well.”
Then, at 8:40 p.m., her cell phone rang. It was the hotel manager.
“This guy is on my cell phone ranting at me, and he said that he's kicking me out,” Leger told 11Alive Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe. “He’s called the police, and I have to leave the room,” she added.
The 63-year-old grandmother and her six-year-old granddaughter were already in their pajamas on the first night of what was supposed to be a three-night stay. “And then I hear, literally, bam, bam, bam!”
It was an officer from the Helen Police Department.
“They can truly kick me out in the middle of the night, from a hotel for giving a review of three and five?” Leger asked the police officer. “And he says, ‘yes, ma'am. It’s within the law.’ This was scary. This is just horrifying,” Leger said.
The police report obtained through an open records request shows there was only one reason for the expulsion. “Leger had given the motel a bad review,” Officer William Barrett wrote.
The officer helped them find another room at the nearby Fairfield Hotel.
During the 911 call, the Baymont manager can be heard telling the dispatcher, “We are getting ready to refund because they have reviewed that the room is dirty and the place is rundown.”
Hotel Manager Danny Vyas told us that was not the reason. “No, no, no. Because at the end of the 911 call, I said she’s not happy with the room. That’s why we had to let her go,” Vyas said.
We tried several times to get an interview with the hotel manager. He finally agreed after we contacted the franchisee.
During a phone call in September, Vyas told us the problem was that Leger never reported the problems to him or his staff. “We can fix that, right? If you let us know. But she never let us know anything,” he said in the recorded conversation.
During our on-camera interview in November, Vyas said the opposite occurred, and multiple complaints were the real reasons Leger and her granddaughter were forced out. “They called me at least ten-eleven times in maybe one hour. Sink is not working. Everything is not right,” he said.
Vyas told 911 that he was refunding Leger’s money. “I told them, ‘ma’am we are going to refund your money because I know that you didn’t like the room and you review us.’ So we have all the right that you can leave the place,” the hotel manager told the dispatcher.
Leger had pre-paid for the entire three-night stay using Hotels.com and she did not receive a refund from the Baymont.
Hotels.com responded to Leger’s request for a refund weeks later by writing, “Unfortunately, we were unable to contact the property and will need to abide by the terms and conditions of the booking which states refunds are not allowed.”
The grandmother believes Hotels.com bears responsibility because it’s the review the company asked for during her stay that resulted in the expulsion.
Once we contacted the booking site for a comment, Hotels.com issued a full refund, two months after the grandmother and granddaughter were kicked out. Vyas gave us a printout of that refund suggesting it was proof he had returned the money.
On Nov. 23, days after the 11Alive investigation, Hotels.com issued the following statement and said they have temporarily removed the property from their site while they conduct their own investigation.
“Hotels.com has a zero-tolerance policy regarding retaliation and we will remove any guests, hosts and/or properties from our website who exhibit or promote such behavior in-stay or offline. We have temporarily removed this property from our sites while we conduct an investigation to determine the appropriate next steps.”
Most businesses, including hotels, are allowed to ask customers to leave for virtually any reason. If they refuse, customers can be arrested for trespassing. Vyas told 911 that Leger refused to leave, but Leger said she never said that. She initially thought the call kicking her out was a prank. When police asked her and her granddaughter to leave, they did.
Georgia has a special law requiring sufficient notice to hotel guests before kicking them out, which can be no shorter than the time for which they’ve already paid. However, there is an exception to the law allowing hotels to expel a guest for “cause, such as failure to pay sums due, failure to abide by rules of occupancy, failure to have or maintain reservations, or other action by a guest.”
That “other action by a guest” is the catch. Because it’s so vague, a guest can be kicked out for any reason, including a negative review.
Leger has a piece of advice for anyone answering an email asking for a review: “If you don't want to be walking in your pajamas with your six-year-old granddaughter, don't leave a review if you're currently still at the place,” the grandmother said.