More service providers adding sneaky clauses in contracts

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Do you rely on reviews when you're picking a product, doctor or other service providers? We found you may not be getting the full picture, thanks to clauses some companies are tucking into their contracts to limit online reviews. It's a new consumer trend some experts say is alarming.

Karina is excited for her big day. The dress is ready and the invites are out. But her wedding photographer? She had one lined up, but got out of the contract, which had a cancellation period.

"I just kind of was uncomfortable with their lack of responses and their kind of runaround," Karina said.

She wanted to warn other brides so she posted an online review. Soon after, she got an email from the photographer saying, "We kindly ask that you remove your posting," noting she could face "legal action" for "breach of contract."

Karina says she never realized her agreement said, "Neither party will disparage the other."

"I was livid. I was so upset that: A) I couldn't review a vendor. B) That you would email me, almost threateningly, so I felt, like I think I felt bullied," she said.

Anja Winikka of theknot.com says these non-review clauses are popping up in contracts for all sorts of wedding vendors, limiting what couples can say.

"Prohibiting them from giving them a review that's less than a five-star review," Winikka said.

Winikka says to be on the lookout for words like "confidentiality" and "non-review."

"If you see 'non-disparagement' in your contract, that's a cause for alarm," she said.

Attorney Noah Davis says he's alarmed these clauses are now used by some contractors, plumbers and dentists. Even some online merchants are putting them in their terms and conditions.

"It's hard to really put, put a finger on how the courts are going to rule on these sorts of things," Davis said.

Experts say don't sign a contract until you understand everything in it. If you spot a non-disparagement clause, ask the business why it's there. And if you really want to hire them, negotiate.

"Don't sign those agreements if they don't allow you to take those clauses out of the contract," Davis said.

Karina removed her online review to avoid legal headaches, but worries this trend will result in other brides not getting the full picture when it comes deciding who to hire for their big day.

"It's a huge game changer if you really can't speak freely about your experiences with some of these businesses," she said.

Experts say be cautious when reading online reviews that are all glowing, or a bit "over the top." Instead ,look for reviews that seem balanced, and if there's a negative review, look to see if and how the company responds. If they respond to consumer complaints in a reasonable way, that could be a good sign.
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