Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 is a slap in the face to Small business
H.R.5111 is also known as the “Lance bill” since it was sponsored by U.S. Congressman from New Jersey, Leonard Lance.
I don’t know why the word “fairness” is allowed anywhere near this bill. Just when small businesses are already in a choke-hold of competition and a ocean of people posting unfiltered comments all over the internet, now comes this Congressman from New Jersey who thinks he knows something about online business.
I am writing you to express my opposition to H.R. 5111 (aka the Lance bill). I have watched the bill float its way through the Congress unopposed, and I suspect the reason why is that small businesses are asleep at the wheel with all the Presidential election process going on.
We are a small business located in DeRidder, Louisiana. Since 2003 we own and operate a handful of online websites that sell products online, advertise real estate for sale, and rent vacation properties in Colorado and Alabama. Our business has completed over one million online transactions, and I know firsthand the nature of online reviews. Positive online reviews are helpful to the consumer decision making process. Most negative online reviews are constructive in providing guidance to companies driven to improve their customers’ experiences.
However, there are many online negative reviews that are posted online by people who walk a very thin line between truth and lies. This is why I believe that non-disparagement clauses should be allowed in contracts. I use non-disparagement clauses in my rental agreements for my three vacation properties. The non-disparagement clauses, when agreed to before the business transaction, allow all parties the opportunity to decline doing business with each other before any problems arise. As a vacation home owner, one online review can affect whether my business is profitable or not. A negative review is not something I can tolerate, and I make my guests agree that any discrepancies encountered during their stay will be resolved between us, not through disparaging statements posted onto the internet. Likewise, my disparagement clause allows potential guests to make an informed choice whether they want to stay at my property. If posting negative reviews about companies is important to them they have the opportunity to reserve that right before entering into a contract. Non-disparagement clauses save time and money, and they keep people out of court. It provides me a mechanism to seek out guests who rather deal with me directly, and it provides a way for negative reviewers to find properties that they can publish negative reviews about.
Here is one of my properties in Silverthorne, Colorado. The url to the property is http://www.vrbo.com/371843 . On August 10, 2016 a guest left this review. His rental agreement did not contain a disparagement clause.
“We arrived after the 4:00 pm check-in time to find the townhouse unlocked. There was a leaking bag of trash left inside the front door. Then we found a basket full of unwashed towels in the laundry room. We contacted the owner and put out the trash ourselves. While we were out at dinner, someone came in and did the dirty laundry. That night when we attempted to dim the lights in the upstairs bedroom all the electricity in our bedroom went out & we had to find the breaker switch to turn it back on. This happened again on the next night. After several days when we were going to use the microwave, it was unusable since there was no turntable or glass plate inside. One side of the electric toaster was defective and almost caught fire when we tried to use it. We needed to use the queen size sofa sleeper, but were unable to locate any clean queen sized sheets, after looking in every drawer & closet, so made do with a couple of flat sheets someone found. The dish count & glass counts were inaccurate, & some items such as 2 casserole dishes with lids was only a lid, no dishes. We called the owner to inform him of the issues & possible dangers with the microwave & toaster, but had to leave a voicemail & never received a call back.”
The review above contains strong rhetoric that I am not comfortable with, and it contains statements I declare untrue.
- The customer told me the maids left a bag of trash tied up nicely outside the front door. There was never any mention of the trash leaking, and the outside trash can was literally 25 steps away.
- The unwashed towels in the laundry room were to be washed on the next turnover. What the reviewer doesn’t tell you is that the entire home was stocked with fresh, clean towels everywhere. The guests had asked permission to enter the property early, which I gave my permission, so naturally the maids were still finishing up.
- Rather than simply stating he had difficulty with the toaster, the customer says the toaster “almost caught fire”. How ridiculous is this? At what point is is determined that a toaster almost catches fire?
- The customer states that my “dish and glass counts were inaccurate”. What ledger is the customer going by? I don’t have a document that says how much of each dish should be in the townhome.
- The customer says they called to inform me of the issues but had to leave a voicemail. What the customer doesn’t tell you is that they spoke to me on the phone 3 times over their very short stay.
The reviewer above is a perfect example of somebody I could have completely avoided with a disparagement clause. I don’t have time for nonsense like this, and I am not comfortable with my property’s good reputation being held hostage by this review. I need the right to refuse business to people like this, and a disparagement clause would have likely filtered this person out before the transaction ever happened. If not they would have been in violation of the rental agreement, and I could have easily enforced it. Now instead, I have to spend thousands of dollars taking this person to court to try to get a judge or a jury to agree with me that the review was unfair and untrue. The reviewer has been uncooperative and unwilling to remove or edit the reviewer. Instead he feels so fervent about his passion to damage people that he has hired a lawyer to defend his choice to keep the review posted.
Next, I want to describe to you the disproportionate consequences that a negative review has on businesses as compared to customer experiences.
- A customer’s negative experience may last minutes, hours, or days. A business has to live with a negative review forever. It’s unfair for a negative review to stay forever when the customer’s experience lasted for a much less, finite amount of time.
- Twenty years ago a dissatisfied customer would have had to take out an ad in a newspaper to publish negative comments about a company. That newspaper ad would have ran only for a finite amount of time, and the customer would have had to pay for it. In today’s world, sites like yelp.com and resellerratings.com allow consumers to post whatever they want about companies, for free! In contrast, yelp.com and resellerratings.com charge companies a hefty sum to participate on their sites and be allowed to respond to negative reviews. Online reviews are an extortion business, and it’s no wonder why yelp.com so strongly supports H.R. 5111 .
I don’t want to do business with an individual who is in the habit of posting ugly comments about people online. I don’t even like it when I overhear someone bragging about how they destroyed some comany’s reputation online. Likewise, I’m sure the person who likes posting those ugly comments does not want to do business with me. Disparagement clauses allow us to filter each other out before the transaction happens, so we don’t wind up in court together. H.R. 5111 will increase court cases, because I believe non-disparagement clauses are currently keeping lots of people out of courts.
I hope the example and arguments above convince you that disparagement clauses are useful, and they allow both businesses and consumers alike to make an informed decision before a transaction ever happens.
Please oppose H.R. 5111.
Please oppose H.R. 5111 when it goes to the Senate.