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LegalGems
LegalGems, Lawyer
Category: Consumer Protection Law
Satisfied Customers: 3204
Experience:  Research Attorney; Private Practice; Attorney Mentor; Mediator
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Hi, My daughter and I checked out of a hotel this past Sunday

Resolved Question:

Hi, My daughter and I checked out of a hotel this past Sunday after a stay from late February. We were supposed to check out in mid January 2014, but changed our mind giving them several days notice, which was more than required. Last week we received a note from the manager stating some things they weren't happy with, ie not being available on cleaning days to let maid in and having too much on the floor when they did come in to clean. We both agreed on those issues. Another thing stated in the letter was that the cleaning staff found the bed lumpy when they turned it over because I had put some books under one side. I did that for my back and certainly meant no harm. Not vandalism and I did not even know it was happening. We called him and he came into our room and said we would negotiate something fair and how much they liked having us. Never missed a payment. They had my debit card and charged it every Friday. We didn't hear about it again and no negotiation was made. When I checked my debit card online yesterday afternoon, I saw a charge for $500.00. Called them immediately and they said it was for the mattress. I asked for a sales receipt of that mattress and told them how unhappy we were. Also, I was certainly not the first person who slept on it. My main question is, can they take an unauthorized payment from my account.
Submitted: 9 months ago.
Category: Consumer Protection Law
Expert:  LegalGems replied 9 months ago.

LegalGems :

Hi! LegalGems here. I'll do my best to assist you.I can only provide general information, so a follow up consult with a private lawyer is recommended. A business is only permitted to run an authorized charge through the credit card. For example, if you had your card on file with say, a florist, and you ordered flowers and asked them to charge it to the card, this would be permissible. If you then placed a subsequent order, they cannot run it through the card unless it is again authorized, or unless you signed a standing authorization. You may want to ask the manager for any document that s/he believes gave the hotel the authority to make this charge. If they are unable to produce it, they won't be able to produce it for the credit card company. If you file a dispute with the credit card company and the hotel cannot substantiate it, then the credit company reverses the charges. Also, if they decided to pursue this in small claims, they would need to prove that you caused damage to the mattress, and this would be done by pictures of the damage. If they already tossed the mattress and bought a new one, it would be difficult to prove "proximate cause". Also, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, so if the plaintiff is unable to prove that the defendant caused the damage, the plaintiff will not receive a judgment in his/her favor.

LegalGems :

Please let me know if you have any questions on the above.

Customer:

It was a debit card that they had on file. I don't have credit cards Bank said there was nothing that they could do on their end. I did think of small claims court, but am somewhat disabled and it could be difficult. Is what they did illegal?

LegalGems :

I am sorry to hear that. If it was unauthorized it is illegal. But it is possible you signed something on check in, and since you've been there for awhile, you may not recall exactly what you signed (or like the rest of us who are in a hurry during check in, we often just sign the paper they thrust at us). So the first step would be to see if they did in fact have authorization. If not, then it would be a small claims issue. Let me see if I can find a pro bono attorney. What county are you in?

Customer:

Johnson County in Iowa. Than you so much.

LegalGems :

You are welcome. Give me a few please - I will try to find something. Meanwhile I'm looking into seeing if there are other options for you.

Customer:

Sure and thank you again!

LegalGems :

You are welcome! I'm still looking. I hope I can find a pro bono. Some counties are great about offering this to disabled/seniors; others not so.

Customer:

o.k. and I am 57, so don't know if that matters. I am on social security disability and have AARP. I have bad weight issue, walk with a walker and a lot of other issues. Just providing info. My daughter is 22, helps me and is taking some classes. This whole thing makes me very angry, but I have controlled my anger. High blood pressure. Truthfully, I think they are "sour grapes" since we checked out early and they will lose money.

LegalGems :

Here is a clearing house of sorts for pro bono services. I was trying to find one that catered to disabled, as I find that the volunteers are particularly helpful (I have no idea why- just based on my experience - they seem to go above and beyond). http://www.iowalegalaid.org/volunteer-lawyers-projects It is very possible it is sour grapes but they still need to prove the damage! Still looking.

Customer:

:)

LegalGems :

Here is a link to catholic charities (you needn't be catholic). They generally offer legal services to those aged 60 and over (I know, you are too young) but most of their offices also assist disabled. You may want to contact them. I am thinking that a letter on attorney letterhead would go along way in resolving this. http://catholiccharitiesdubuque.org/ (this isn't your county but they should be familiar with resources throughout the state). Here's some information from the FDIC - so if you did not sign a blanket authorization upon check in, your bank will need to take a more pro-active stance. You can give them a copy of this.

LegalGems :

What federal protections cover consumers who use debit cards?


The federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) protects you from errors, loss or theft of your debit card. However, unlike the Truth in Lending Act protections for credit cards, which cap a consumer's liability for unauthorized transactions at $50, the law limits liability to $50 if the debit cardholder notifies the bank within two business days after discovering the theft. If you don't notify your bank within those two days, you could lose up to $500, or perhaps more. In the worst-case scenario — if you receive a bank statement that includes an unauthorized debit-card withdrawal and you wait more than 60 days to alert your bank — you could be liable for any amounts from transactions made after that 60-day period.


The good news is that many banks don't hold a consumer responsible for unauthorized transactions if he or she notifies the institution in a timely fashion. But remember that with a debit card, the money tapped by the thief has already been taken out of your account.


Under the EFTA, a bank has 10 business days to investigate the matter (20 business days if your account is new) and report back to you with its results. If the bank needs additional time, it may, under certain circumstances, temporarily give you some or all of the disputed amount until it finishes its investigation. Generally, a bank is allowed up to 45 days of additional investigation time (90 days for certain transactions). "But until the dispute is resolved," said Creamean, "you should be prepared to pay your mortgage, car payment, credit card bill and any other obligations that may come due." Also, she said, if the bank's investigation finds there was no error, theft or loss, it can take back the money it put into your account, after notifying you.

LegalGems :

I am linking you to Washington State's site (I can't access FDIC because of the shutdown) and since this is Federal law it applies to all states (but Iowa's government does not have any similar site). http://www.dfi.wa.gov/consumers/education/debit_faq.htm#stop_payment

Customer:

Thank you so very much. I will go over all this with my daughter. Have good day.

LegalGems :

You too. I hope this works out. You may want to consider a credit card over a debit card for future use - because the consumer protections on credit cards are much more comprehensive.

LegalGems, Lawyer
Satisfied Customers: 3204
Experience: Research Attorney; Private Practice; Attorney Mentor; Mediator
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