Family: Houston hotel threatened lawsuit because of negative online review

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- One family wants an apology from a manager at Hotel Icon after they say they were threatened with a lawsuit for posting a negative review online.

Andrew Aldridge says his parents were just trying to have a nice New Year's Eve together when their night came to a halt. They booked a room using their Marriott rewards points.

"They weren't sure if it was a pest of some sort," Aldridge said.

Aldridge's mother posted a review of their stay on TripAdvisor titled "Rodents/Roaches/ Who knows what?" According to the post, she heard crunching noises on and off during the night, only to find that something had eaten through a bag of popcorn.

She wrote that the night shift employee noticed foil bag shavings and bits of popcorn on the dresser and agreed there was a problem. The next morning, Aldridge says his parents got another shock.

"The front desk offered to refund the points, and no sooner had my parents left then they got a phone call saying, 'No, we're not refunding them,'" Aldridge said, "We think you're making it all up."

A TripAdvisor user registered as Hotel Icon General Manager Steve Dennis responded to the complaint by threatening a lawsuit.

In the post, which has since been removed, Dennis wrote, "We are considering legal action against this guest for libel as there is no foundation for the claim and his intent is to harm this business based on an invisible mouse."

That threat does not sit well with Aldridge.

"My parents are no longer allowed to stay at the hotel, threatened with a libel suit and responded to and called liars both to their face, on the phone and on TripAdvisor," Aldridge said, "Where does all this come from? What brought on all this vitriol? I have no idea."

Consumer attorney Richard Alderman tells Eyewitness News libel suits are difficult to win.

"Suing someone for libel or slander is not easy. First of all, you can't sue someone if what they say is true or if it's just their opinion," Alderman said. "They must be saying something false and then you have to prove it."

Aldridge said he wants an apology from Hotel Icon.

"All you had to do was love on them a little."

General Manager Steve Dennis declined our request for an interview on Monday. He said he could not comment and referred our questions to Marriott's corporate office. No one has responded as of this posting. To verify the authenticity of this lawsuit threat, Eyewitness News contacted TripAdvisor. According to a spokeswoman, all registered business representatives must complete a process to verify their identity and their affiliation with their business. The spokeswoman also said TripAdvisor took down the original post by Steve Dennis because coercing a reviewer or attempting to suppress viewer contributions goes against their guidelines.

On Tuesday, Aldridge posted the following to a new Reddit post:

    If you're just joining us my parents were threatened with a libel suit by the GM of Hotel Icon downtown for a negative Tripadvisor review. Marriott has made good with an apology both from the corporate office and personally from Steve Dennis, the GM at Icon. When this began I was unsure if posting it here in /r/houstonwould accomplish anything, but things just weren't sitting well with someone bullying my family online. After the post gained some popularity on reddit, both Channel 13 and Houston Press both did stories on it. After a lot of waiting, today my folks got a call both from Marriott's corporate office and from Steve Dennis. Both were extremely apologetic, and Mr. Dennis was, and I'm quoting my mom here, "appalled by his recent behavior". Corporate offered my parents' points back for the evening in question, but all they really wanted was an apology from the man that was so rude to them. We've received it and we're content. We will be making a reservation at Icon, as they've invited my parents to stay as their guest, and I will meet them all for breakfast the following morning. Thank you to all of you who put us in a position to get justice in an obvious case of bullying. If any of you were holding out on whether or not to stay at Icon in the future, it's up to you. Just know in our eyes they've made things square.

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