The Mould Show

Hotel Room Mould! I Need To Complain - What Are My Options?

February 27, 2020 Dr Cameron Jones Episode 36
The Mould Show
Hotel Room Mould! I Need To Complain - What Are My Options?
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The Mould Show
Hotel Room Mould! I Need To Complain - What Are My Options?
Feb 27, 2020 Episode 36
Dr Cameron Jones

Imagine you and your family have planned a trip of a lifetime.  You finally get to your destination and discover that your supposedly luxurious hotel room is dirty and has mould.  What do you do?  Do you immediately write a bad review - potentially defaming the hotel and opening yourself up to being sued, or do you try and resolve the issues through the correct channels? In this week’s show, we look at what Google has to say about this problem.  To properly address this, we’ve consulted with a lawyerr to find out what they recommend and how they would deal with this.  

Show Notes Transcript

Imagine you and your family have planned a trip of a lifetime.  You finally get to your destination and discover that your supposedly luxurious hotel room is dirty and has mould.  What do you do?  Do you immediately write a bad review - potentially defaming the hotel and opening yourself up to being sued, or do you try and resolve the issues through the correct channels? In this week’s show, we look at what Google has to say about this problem.  To properly address this, we’ve consulted with a lawyerr to find out what they recommend and how they would deal with this.  

Hello. My name is Dr. Cameron Jones and I'm an environmental microbiologist. You are tuning into the Mould Show. Now, normally we do these every Thursday at 11:00 AM however, we have had a live hookup with friends and colleagues in Singapore today on another matter so that has taken the better part of today. In any case, I want to get to the theme or topic of today's live stream because this show is actually in response to an email that I received last week from someone online who reached out to me because they were having problems with mould in a holiday rental. These individuals are actually from New Zealand and they had planned a holiday for some time to Melbourne with their family and they chose an apartment, a holiday rental in Melbourne purported to be a penthouse apartment of high five-star finish.

In any case, we are going to be talking about what you do if you discover that your hotel room or holiday rental actually shows mould and this could happen to anyone and of course that leaves a family, and this family in particular, needing to make some very quick decisions about whether or not they wanted to stay there or what they should do and so I thought that this was an excellent topic to cover as part of a live stream to talk about this particular issue and what I have done now is that I'm highlighting the problem of the email that I was sent in. I'm not going to name the hotel obviously, but I am going to run through in chronological order exactly how this story unfolded for me and how I am then choosing to present this live stream because it's particularly important, but I think for the emotional context of this live stream, I'm firstly going to read you the email I received back on the 20th of February a week ago.

It states, "Hello. We recently booked into a hotel in Melbourne of [BLANK/EDITED OUT] name, but we didn't stay due to a very bad mould problem. It smelled very strongly of mould, mildew and was musty when we arrived. We subsequently found thick, black mould on the window sills. We have photographs. I'm wondering if you are the appropriate person to notify as I think this needs to be looked into further. We were only in the room for about 30 minutes to an hour, but during that time, we all felt ill with hay fever-type symptoms. We were traveling with a young family, a three and a four year and are therefore concerned about the impact that staying would have had on them. If you are the appropriate place to lodge a complaint with, please let me know and I'll send you more details through."

In any case, I was sent a whole lot of photographs, which I'm going to show you as well, but essentially this leaves this family with the question, "Help. What do I do now ?" The first option is don't stay followed by option two, write a review and that's in fact what these people chose to do and we're going to go through the nature of their review that they did post publicly and they have sent me a copy of the text and we're going to go through that, but how I want to approach the Livestream this week is that we're going to actually go through all of the elements of the complaint that they posted on TripAdvisor.

Obviously, in response to this trip advisor complaint, I did my own search for what I would do if I were in their shoes and essentially that amounts to an internet or Google search for what to do when you are not happy with a holiday rental, but then I reached out to a lawyer, an Australian qualified lawyer for their response and therefore that is the central message that this live stream is going to be about this week. What would a lawyer do? And I've broken them down into 10 things that the lawyer says are important to do and we're going to be going through each of these 10 points, but what I want to do at this point is play you the video, which demonstrates the nature of the TripAdvisor complaint

We went to stay a night here in February 2020 with our three-year-old and four-year-old child for our last night in Melbourne. We thought we would splash out and rent the penthouse apartment. What a mistake. We lasted about 30 minutes to an hour before leaving, all feeling ill. When we walked in, the room absolutely stunk of mould, mildew and had a musty smell. We disturbingly found the cause of the smell to be very, very thick black mould.

For starters, the advertising said it was a penthouse apartment, which is defined as I quote, "A flat on the top floor of a tall building, typically one that is luxuriously fitted." This is not on the top floor and is most definitely not luxuriously fitted. It's not even clean or sanitary so don't be fooled into renting this thinking you are going to be staying in anything luxury. From the moment we stepped out of the lift, it was a bad experience with warning bells. As we exited the lift, we heard a dog barking in a neighboring apartment. This raised sanitary and noise concerns. Upon entering the apartment, at first it looked impressive due to its size, but it was very quickly evident it was absolutely filthy, poorly furnished and not well appointed.

The floor was visibly dirty with marks and dirt patches and stains. Unfortunately, before noticing it, I took my shoes off and my feet were filthy after walking around for a very short time. The skirting boards clearly had not been cleaned in a very long time. They had dust caked on so thick, you could wipe with your finger and leave a mark. The fridge, microwave and oven had smears all over them. The bedding looked about the cleanest thing in the apartment, but it had only two tiny pillows for a big bed.

The most concerning thing, my children pulled the cord on the blind and revealed thick, caked black mould. I've attached pictures to verify this. This was not only unpleasant, but black mould can be very dangerous. I'm so glad we found this and had decided not to stay. There was other black mould throughout the apartment.

I raised my concerns with a staff member at the front counter. He was empathetic, but he said he was not able to help because there was no manager on until the morning. This was around 6:30 to 7:00PM in the evening. On reflection, we should have insisted he called the GD manager. He did show me another room, but it was just as unpleasant. The carpet in the other room was very tired, loose, stretched, and in my opinion, also posed a safety concern. That room was also poorly furnished and although somewhat cleaner than the penthouse, it still did not smell or look clean.

By the time we left, we were all experiencing varied degrees of allergic type reaction and feeling unwell. With our four year old son and myself worst affected. We were experiencing sneezing, irritated eyes, headaches, and irritation in our noses and throats. The best thing I could say about this property was the feeling I got getting out of there. I will be reporting the property to relevant authorities. So hopefully the matters get addressed.

You can see there that obviously the family were extremely dissatisfied with the state of their accommodation and particularly the mould and the adverse health experiences that they felt and the health concerns that they had for their family. After I read that, I immediately went to Google to see what advice I could find that was relevant to here in Australia. I found that this type of experience is covered by Australian consumer law and I've put the relevant resources up here.

I've found that the best-written one that was easiest to understand for a lay person was by fair trading in New South Wales. I would assume that there are other consumer guides for the other States because this is a federal Australian consumer law principle, it would be suitable for anyone in any of the states, but I put this up here and I certainly point out that it covers elements such as acceptable quality of the goods or services. You need to be able to supply proof of purchase that you were the rightful person within the contract and that obviously any types of advertising.... This particular person indicated that it was proposed to be a positive five-star accommodation.

It's really, really, really important to be able to demonstrate that that, in fact, is a five-star accommodation and then under consumer law, you've got some remedies are offered to you when things go wrong. The next piece of Google advice that I think is important to bring to your attention is some advice from a magazine called Choice and anyone who's watching this from Australia would know that Choice Magazine is a strong advocate of equitable principles in Australia and they have some really interesting information regarding travel rights, safety and acceptability of quality and the importance of a good match or a good fit between the description of the property and what an individual would actually experience on entry and especially that no additional contract terms can be added which diminish the rights of the individual under this consumer law and so really that was really the first two consumer principles that I was easily able to find myself online and that if I were needing to write a letter or make a complaint, I would definitely be referring to these two sources, but if you stick around into this livestream, I'm getting a lawyers response and I actually pose this question to me and I had them draft their 10 point solution to this problem, but we'll get to that in a little bit.

The next thing that I also definitely want to bring up, certainly because there's been a very interesting case that has just been heard and determined here in Australia with regard to an adverse review that appeared in Google for a dentist I believe and the dentist has been awarded some hundreds of thousands of dollars in a defamation case against someone who posed a negative online review and that had very poor merit. I'm highlighting this because there is a lot of information out there on the internet with regard to defamation lawsuits regarding poor reviews posted on public forums such as TripAdvisor or Airbnb or Google reviews or Facebook, which could impact on you if you are attempting to use these public forums to air your grievances without taking them up with the individuals concerned.

Moving on, what would a lawyer do? Because most of us often have that refrain at some point in our lives. We need advice from a lawyer, so what are they going to do? So I've done that legwork for you and the solicitor got back to me and I'm going to pretty much read out verbatim their responses because this would form the basis of engagement if you needed to engage a solicitor yourself and these are the types of things that you'd be looking to cover in some type of a response to this particular hotel or apartment chain. And so you need to make your dissatisfaction known.

Obviously, if you just complained to one another online, that's not alerting the relevant stakeholder here. You need to make it known to the manager or owner immediately. The person responsible for the hotel room needs to be given a fair chance to respond to your grievance. The important point here is the plaintiff's need to mitigate their loss. Part of this is preventing the problem from getting worse, which might occur if you choose to stay or sleep in this mould or mould spore ridden hotel room or apartment. Mitigating your loss means not aggravating the situation by complaining after the fact. Make your dissatisfaction known.

The second core component of any type of complaint is collecting suitable evidence of the situation and the suitable evidence in this situation needs to be done right at the outset. Pull out your phone, take photographs and videos and that's something which you absolutely must do.

The next point is you need to hear what the hotel's offer is going to be. Obviously a room full of mould is an incredibly unpleasant situation and it's one in which you rightly deserve some type of compensation. Any negotiation strategy would recommend clearly listening to what the other side has to say before making demands. However, the offer made by the hotel needs to be substantial and giving a part discount or a 10% discount or a voucher or perhaps a free breakfast is also not going to be a suitable response nor is offering to clean the mould going to be a suitable response either.

The fourth recommendation by the solicitor is to have the hotel change you to a better room or a different suite in the hotel and obviously there are limitations on this especially if there are limited rooms available. Although it doesn't solve the immediate issue, it is really important to see whether or not you can get an upgrade or some other incentives such as staying for free next time as well as the room charge because you have been... Your amenity has been compromised by this fact that there is mould, visible mould present in this particular room.

Of course, your other alternative number five is to ask for 100% refund and really the chances are that if you discover visible mould, well that's the tip of the iceberg because mould being microscopic doesn't necessarily need to be visible for it to be a serious problem. It really is an issue of determining whether or not you choose to stay. So under the contract law it certainly would be considered a fundamental breach of the agreement and that would be something which you could consider asking for a complete refund and changing to another hotel.

The sixth point is obviously to collect as much evidence as you can. In the event that management you feel is being uncooperative or doesn't have the time to help you or tell you that there aren't any alternative mould free rooms, you're going to need to make some decisions about whether or not it is suitable to stay or leave and before you do this, you really need to collect as much evidence as possible and take more photographs of the mould and or videos as well. I think videos are underrated in evidence collection because they definitely demonstrate the emotional context of the problem and I think that really needs to be highlighted in a lot of these situations as well. You want to also collect and take with you any advertising material or claims that the hotel might've made prior to your arrival.

Now seeking some type of compensation after the event. Well, this is a very important component of a complaint and usually involves writing some sort of letter of demand. I quote directly from what the solicitor told me, "In the event, you were unable to achieve a satisfactory compromise with the hotel and where you have suffered loss, particularly financial loss such as the cost of an alternative hotel and associated costs such as a taxi between the two hotels, you will need to write a formal communication to the hotel. This message should be written as concisely as possible and explain the events of the hotel stay and the mould in chronological order and also lists your losses."

The solicitor has highlighted a case, an Australian case law, with regard to damages for disappointment and loss of enjoyment. Although he does qualify this, that this is an extreme case and one should be mindful of something that may be an extremely unsavory situation for you, might not be considered an extreme case and so you need to be mindful of the merits of any claim that you might make as part of a civil claim, but nevertheless, your consumer rights to a large extent are protected in this type of situation.

Let's move on now to tip number eight. Tip number eight unfortunately is the waiting game exercise and that is giving the other side time to respond. Ideally in your letter of demand, you should provide hotel management with a reasonable time to decide for themselves on what sort of compensation you may expect to receive. You could add wording into your letter, "Please acknowledge receipt of this letter and pay the amount of X dollars within 21 days, otherwise, we have instructions to initiate court proceedings with no further notice."

This is apparently standard wording in a letter of compromise. Of course, I should point out that there are many advantages of settling and avoiding the hassle of going to court or civil claims and these include obviously cost savings, time savings, the confidential nature of any settlement and of course the uncertainty of any civil claim and the merits of your case and any compromise or issues of the compromise negotiation that you may have been involved in.

Moving on to number nine. This contentious issue of the use of media or online reputation damage and any communications expert tasked with reputation management, their mantra is prepare for the worst and hope for the best and so many people consider rushing to write a bad review. When the hotel types up a bad customer review, this has two sides. It makes the person complaining look bad and also these allegations of defamation become real and in a sense, once this goes to social media and mass media and consumer reviews sites, there is potential for there to be legal action between the parties, definitely for defamation and there is brand new case law to this effect showing that a review can be extremely damaging for the individual and the individual deserves compensation.

In a sense, there is no hurry to the refund or compromise position after the fact because it is nonsensical to stay in a mould contaminated property, especially if you have mould exposure concerns and in a sense, you have to cut your losses, move elsewhere and wait for a response from the hotel and you could in fact write your scathing review, show this along with your evidence to the hotel to demonstrate that in a sense you are prepared to lodge this review, but give them time and be mindful that you need to give some time for them to get an adequate response.

Now if all of this fails and you are met with a situation where there is no response or a negative response, you have to look at the merits of your complaint as well and how significant the mould concerns were. If they are highly significant and you believe that this is a totally unacceptable situation, well then you have to at least put the mould level in the high to extremely high range, particularly if you're in an enclosed space like a cruise ship or if there is no alternative accommodation or if it was booked for a honeymoon or if someone suffers, for example, an extreme adverse health reaction, well obviously you need to escalate this matter and you should go and see a lawyer. Obviously, when you're looking around for solicitors, you need to find one perhaps that works on a no-win, no fee basis in order to explore your options more fully than have been done here or through the online searches that I or you can do as well.

In a sense, this brings me to the close of the 10 steps that my solicitor recommends you to use if you discover your accommodation rental property or hotel property is, in your opinion, unfit due to water damage and or mould. These are the 10 tips that you should follow it. Now we are now going to move towards the breaking news.

Obviously it would be remiss of me if I did not continue focusing a lot of attention on the COVID-19 diseased caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus epidemic, which appears to be moving towards pandemic scale. I have looked at the emerging research literature and I'm focusing on a paper that came out approximately two or three days ago, which is focusing on the rate of infections, deaths, and cure rate, especially in China over the last calendar month.

Why I'm highlighting this particular paper is to emphasize that the rate of infection is approaching a power law and power laws are particularly powerful predictive tools because they govern, in many cases, the scaling behavior. When I talk about scaling behavior, it's how large numbers of elements, which are connected in this case people and how the transmission effect of the virus moves between these people has something called a scaling parameter. When we plot this on logarithmic axes, we are looking for what are called straight-line phenomena and essentially this means moving from one to 10, to 100, to 1,000, to 10,000, 100,000, a million, a billion people that the scaling remains the same and the physics of an epidemic spreading should follow scaling or power-law behavior.

Similarly, the spread of forest fires depends on the geometric arrangement of the nearest neighbor trees that are available to catch fires and these are two examples of the spread of a fire or a virus or a bacterial agent within a population of elements. It comes down to their geometric scaling in space and one of the very interesting and important properties of this new paper is that the upper end of the trend line towards the right-hand side is showing a characteristic tapering off and the authors in this paper are making the important proposition and claim that like with similar power laws in space and time, once you start to see a tapering off, that may mean that there is a reduction in the scale of the spread and in fact, it could well be slowing down.

Now, this data is only for China, but it does mean that containment is showing some hallmarks of being successful and this would be a very, very good result. In any case, I have put the web link at the bottom of this for you to read it yourself and anyone who has an interest in the underlying physics and mathematics of the spread of epidemics will probably find this result of interest. I guess the take-home message is that there is some evidence that there is a tapering off of the infection rate, which could be good news for people in China.

Now, this brings me to some related papers, which have also come out in literature and obviously myself as a microbiologist, I normally focus on bacteria, yeast and fungal research, but more recently I've been spending a lot of time looking at the virology and vaccine and epidemic literature. There is the final paper, which also came out very recently on February 19 was looking at this issue of vaccine hesitancy because obviously, with COVID-19, eventually there will be a vaccine or series of vaccines developed which will be provided to persons for the purposes of protecting themselves from COVID-19 and any variants thereof.

This particular publication is talking about vaccine hesitancy and I'm not going to get into a debate here about the reasons why people would be hesitant to take a vaccine, but even the abstract which I've put up online state some global statistics, again, usually quoting World Health Organization, stating that vaccines save between two and 6 million lives per year, but the point is that one and a half million more people could be saved if the number of vaccines, or the coverage or the take-up rate of vaccines was increased.

This concept of vaccine hesitancy is of particular concern in those countries that really have a higher income. In a sense, the reason for vaccine hesitancy is postulated to be due to the conflicting accounts often provided in social media and in mainstream media. Really this creates levels of fear and anxiety regarding the safety of vaccines. I wanted to end today's Livestream with this in mind because certainly social media platforms such as Twitter are fundamental to how news is exchanged about epidemics. There have been some invaluable publications on the importance of social media in providing early warning systems on the spread of epidemics and other issues which affect humankind from a public health safety point of view and I think it's important to highlight the fact that vaccine hesitancy is a real phenomenon and in a similar way of interference with elections and the way that fake news can spread within communities. That in itself is a type of scaling phenomenon as well.

They're the last two elements that I wanted to talk about the news this week and as usual, next week we will be back at a normal time on Thursday at 11:00 AM with another topic and thank you for joining me today. I hope that if you do have the unfortunate experience of renting or moving in or being shown a room with water damage and or mould, that you have now a better understanding of your consumer law rights and the principles that would be considered as any type of negotiation and have essentially a roadmap for you to follow. In any case, I wish you well and see you next week. Have a great week. My name is Dr. Cameron Jones. This will be provided on YouTube later and on our podcast channel, themouldshow.com. Bye for now.