Wedding Venue Refuses Refund For Canceled Ceremony, Even Though It Books Replacement Event

Cancelling wedding plans can be a huge financial nightmare, especially if you’re already locked into big-ticket, non-refundable purchases. But if one of your non-refundable buys — the venue, for example — is able to fill the spot your cancellation leaves vacant, could you make an argument that you deserve some of your cash back?

That’s the question a former bride-to-be in California is asking after she cancelled her wedding only a week after signing the contract — and paying $5,750 — for her wedding venue.

The woman feels that she should get at least a partial refund, given that she cancelled her wedding a full ten months before she was supposed to walk down the aisle and the venue had already booked another wedding in the space she’d reserved.

But the venue’s owner refused, citing a strict non-refundable policy.

Under California law, one attorney explains to CBS News, if a vendor re-books the space and recoups its money, the woman should get her money back.

“The law would say that he was unjustly enriched to be paid twice for the same thing,” says the lawyer.

However, the owner says that while he did book another wedding in the space, it was only at half the price of the cancelled event.

The woman says she has asked if some of her $5,750 could be put toward a smaller event, like a birthday party, at the venue, but the owner says no.

She’s now mulling over small claims court, but the legal expert advises that they could have a hard time of it if the venue’s owner can prove he has not recouped the full cost.

While a wedding planner suggests to CBS that people look into wedding insurance, we think there are more creative ways to get one’s deposit back.

For example, back in 2010 we told you about a woman in Brooklyn who, rather than lose the $3,500 non-refundable payment she had paid to the reception hall, turned the event into a fundraiser for a local soup kitchen.

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  1. fsnuffer says:

    I had something similar happen. The vendor, rightly so, refused to give back my non-refundable payment so I didn’t cancel and showed up with three of my friends and had him deliver everything he was contracted to do.

    • axhandler1 says:

      Yep, that’s what I was thinking. When she called up to cancel and found out she wouldn’t be getting any money refunded, why cancel at all?

  2. TuxthePenguin says:

    Or how about this – when you booked the venue, you agreed to a contract. You broke that contract and must abide by the cancellation terms laid out in it. It sucks, but it happens.

    Now, if the groom-to-be was the one who broke it off (or caused it), you can successfully sue him. I many states, you relied upon a promise to your detriment. Its the same underlying basis why if you move to another state for a job and they rescind the offer, you can sue for that as well.

    • AzCatz07 says:

      You make no mention of unjust enrichment. The venue owner can’t collect twice for the same date. He has to refund something to the cancelled party.

      • TuxthePenguin says:

        I fail to see how this is unjust enrichment. Here is the course of activity.

        Vendor executes contract with Person A.
        Person A breaks that contract.
        Vendor executes contract with Person B.

        He didn’t enter into a contract with at the same time and he did not do anything “unjust”. It was a harsh contract – but Person A knew that going in. So long as the vendor was clear about the terms and followed the contract to the letter, there is nothing unjust about it.

        Sometimes contracts are harsh. Sometimes they aren’t. But if you sign a contract, you agree to abide by the terms.

        • The Cosmic Avenger says:

          “I fail to see how this is unjust enrichment.”

          Well you’re on a roll then, because apparently you also fail at basic web searching for the LEGAL definition of “unjust enrichment” and the legal concepts of basis and consideration.

          Luckily for us, your opinion is not law.

          • TuxthePenguin says:

            For it to be unjust enrichment you have to prove that one person profited at the expense of the other. To determine that, we either look to see whether it due to mistake or change or whether its just going to fall under a basic idea of justice. For the first to be true, there would need to be a mistake in the contract. Nothing in the story implies that. So then its going to be under the general idea.

            But how can you make that claim? Nonrefundable refunds are common things in the wedding industry. You could claim that 100% nonrefundable up-front payments might be too much, but is 20%? What about 50%? Should it be teired based on how long is left?

            At which point aren’t we just making a contract? That’s why, most times, contracts are upheld.

            Like I originally said, she needs to go after her fiance if he was the one who called it off and led to her loss.

            (Considering and basis have little to do in this case because it all falls into what the contract said and what the actual law in California is)

            • Bladerunner says:

              It’s unjust enrichment because you can’t sell the same thing twice.

              Technically, the venue owner was in breach of contract: if the amount is non-refundable, it’s also non-cancellable; he should have kept the venue open (though, in some jurisdictions he’s required to try to fill it and recoup some), but instead he sold it again, which means he could not have possibly fulfilled the contract and given the woman the item she purchased, which was: use of the venue for a specific time on a specific day.

              • Bladerunner says:

                Oh, and for a similar situation, look up ETF contract cases; companies were forced to change to a pro-rated system, because it was considered unjust enrichment to charge someone the full ETF for cancelling with one month left on contract, which is why today it’s prorated.

          • longfeltwant says:

            Okay I’ll bite on that.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unjust_enrichment

            1. Was the defendant enriched?
            2. Was the enrichment at the expense of the claimant?
            3. Was the enrichment unjust?
            4. Does the defendant have a defense?
            5. What remedies are available to the claimant?

            1 and 2 are for the plaintiff in this case. But 3 and 4? Is it unjust to be enriched according to an agreeable, legal contract? I don’t know the answer to that but maybe you do. And does the defendant have a defense? Again, I’m not a contract lawyer, but it seems like the contract would be a defense.

            So, there you go. I googled it and it doesn’t look bad for the defendant in this case. Can you comment in greater detail, with your presumed years and years of contract law experience?

            • The Cosmic Avenger says:

              Excuse me? I never claimed to be an expert, unlike TuxThePenguin. All I did was look at the exact article you cited and I saw that there were many factors involved that would need to be interpreted by an expert. You know, I hear people go to school for this stuff, so I’d give more weight to their opinion than the opinion of some Internet blowhard.

          • Waltersinister3 says:

            He should also look up “duty to mitigate” and “efficient breach”.

    • AcctbyDay says:

      I would normally agree with you, but when a contract is broken the aggrieved party is expected to put up a good faith effort to prevent losses and contract law states (no reference here just memory) that you cannot collect twice for performing service once. If the bride had not paid in advance she would have been forced by the court to pay what the vendor could not recuperate through reasonable efforts to re-book. I would take that vendor to small claims court to get a refund for what he was able to cover by re-booking the venue. You may not like it, but any lawyer will agree that the bride is in a position to recoup some of her deposit.

    • Mike says:

      Just because there is a statement in a contract doesn’t mean it’s enforceable in a court of law. This is why there are contract lawyers. A contract isn’t an agreement, it’s an agreement that can be enforced by the courts. There are some things the courts won’t agree to even if you did. In this case, the venue owner can only collect actual damages. This means that if he or she booked the venue, the difference is due to the person who backed out.

      • Ilovegnomes says:

        The difference may not be as much as she estimated because of the fact that third party vendors may have required deposits as part of the bookings. If you check the venue’s web site, the use of the site and the reception hall as itemized costs are only $2500 (a cost in which the owner took half price to re-book). It is standard (when planning most weddings) that only a deposit and not the full amount is taken at the time of booking. So if she booked an expensive package that involved multiple parties, the stance of the venue not allowing for a refund *could* makes sense because if that money was used as a deposit for third parties, that would mean that the venue did not profit based on those amounts. It is unclear based on the article if that is the case.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          Typically, venues have long-term contracts with vendors for services in the space, they don’t HAVE to make reservations, get cheaper service, and the vendor is guaranteed business.

  3. valkyrievf2x says:

    Seems like the person that cancelled the wedding originally is owed just half, which is what the venue owner said the replacement wedding cost. Yes, he did get a new wedding in there, but at half cost. As such, she should only get 1/2, assuming she goes to court for it.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Yeah, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t refund at least the money he recouped for the other event. That’s the FAIR thing to do. I would not do business with a place that had no refund policy in place for unforeseen circumstances. Really, anything could happen to postpone a wedding: a family member’s serious illness/death, an accident, etc.

      Should have asked about that up front. I’ll remember this if I ever need to book a venue.

  4. AzCatz07 says:

    First of all, please read every contract you sign. Contracts are negotiable. If this contract didn’t have a refund clause, I’d either negotiate to have one added or not do business with that place.

    Anyway, it’s disconcerting that the owner is claiming he already spent the money and is having financial problems. Even if she successfully sues in small claims court, she may never see a dime of that money. The owner also says he did re-book it, but for half the cost. Why would he accept half the cost if it’s still 10 months in advance? Did he do that because he already had the cold-footed woman’s money?

    Thanks for posting the link to the news story. At least the name of the venue is not “redacted”.

    • DuckNCover says:

      You have a lot of the same questions as I do, especially regarding only booking for half the cost the OP paid.

      • sallysparrow says:

        Some venue fees are based on number of participants in addition to set rental costs. So you might pay $1,000 to rent the space itself and then $75/person for food, booze, chairs, flatware, etc., if the venue does its pricing like that. My guess is that the half-cost event just had fewer guests.

  5. PunditGuy says:

    IANAL, but the case sited by her attorney depends on a section of the California Civil Code that relates to backing out of a an agreement to purchase real estate. I’m not sure that renting a space is precisely on point.

    • rekoil says:

      There’s similar laws in place in landlord/tenant code as well in California. If a tenant breaks a lease, a landlord can only collect (or withhold from the security deposit) actual losses. This has come up a lot lately in San Francisco due to the tight market – a landlord can’t keep the previous tenant’s security deposit while re-renting the unit out right away (and usually for more than the previous lease).

      As such, a small-claims court will most likely make the venue prove how much they rented the space for that day, and refund the former bride-to-be the difference if, in fact, he rented it for less than her deposit.

      • PunditGuy says:

        This would seem to be a lot closer to a hotel room transaction than landlord/tenant one. Maybe Cali addresses that somewhere.

  6. menty666 says:

    If the terms were you cancel you lose, you’re out of luck. That’s what you agreed to.

    Seems pretty simple.

    • rekoil says:

      And if the terms were you cancel you must commit seppuku, I guess you’d be supplying her the knife? Illegal contract terms are illegal.

      • menty666 says:

        There’s a difference between “Non-refundable purchase” and “must kill yourself” Ask the airlines.

      • longfeltwant says:

        You have implied that it is illegal to have a no-cancellation policy. I consider that assertion to be preposterous, and I hereby ridicule you. I will politely eat my words if you can cite a law making no-cancellation policies illegal.

        • Bladerunner says:

          longfeltwant, this was not a “no-cancellation” policy. This was a “I’ll sell the same space twice” policy. While I believe that in some jurisdictions a good faith effort must be made to rebook a venue, if you’ve definitely resold it, there’s no court that’s going to say you deserve to keep money twice for the same service.

          I refer you to “http://www.justanswer.com/law/6fdcj-booked-wedding-venue-last-month-everything-going.html”, for a different set of circumstances, where a supposed lawyer states “However, if venue covers and books another customer, it has no loss. What is more it cannot impose a penalty that excessive which results in unjust enrichment to them.”

  7. MaxH42 needs an edit button says:

    Is it normal to pay the whole thing up front? I would have expected a deposit of 10-20%, maybe with the total due a month or two ahead of time if they’re really worried about cancellations.

    • frocky says:

      I’m an event planner, and no, it’s not normal. However, when you get into wedding planning, shady venues know many people organizing a wedding have no professional planning experience, and so will basically see what they can get away with.

      As for rebooking, this is often a specific clause in an event contract.

      • frank64 says:

        And what do most clauses say, and what happens in practice?

        • Owl says:

          Here’s a copy of my hotel’s standard Cancellation clause. This is just for us, though, and isn’t representative of the policies of the other hotels in my area.

          Generally, we hold people to the contract, though there are times where we end up waiving the charges in an effort to keep doing business with companies in my area.

          It is unfair, but wedding clients are less likely to have such charges waived because there’s really no need to “retain” the business…because honestly, how many times are you going to get married…and at the same place.

          CANCELLATION AND PERFORMANCE: The rates offered by us are based in part upon the total gross revenue anticipated by us from your agreement to use and pay for the rooms and events listed on the opposite side. You agree and understand that in the event of a cancellation or lack of full performance by you, our actual damages would be difficult to determine. Therefore, you have agreed to pay reasonable liquidated damages to the Hotel for cancellation or lack of performance as described in this paragraph. Cancellation damages will be calculated as a percentage, based on the date of cancellation listed below, of the minimum revenue guarantees listed in this paragraph.
          Date of Cancellation Percentage owed
          Date of signing to 90 days in advance 20%
          89 days to 60 days in advance 50%
          59 to 30 days in advance 80%
          29 days or less in advance of event 100%
          If the event is held, but the Hotel does not realize the total revenue anticipated from your event, you agree to pay performance damages. The damages owed will be the amount necessary for the Hotel to receive no less than 80% of each minimum revenue guarantee listed in this paragraph plus applicable taxes.

    • DuckNCover says:

      I have dealt with renting halls/venues/what-have-you many times and this has always been the case. Non-refundable deposit required. Some places with accept the rest on the day of the event. Others sometimes require full payment a month or two in advance. Others ask for a second non-refundable deposit as it gets closer to event time (because re-renting the hall gets more difficult the closer it gets to the date.

      I would not ever do business with someone that wants all the money up front.

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      The one time I booked a major venue, we only had to pay half up front. It wasn’t that much (under a grand), so we just paid it in full to get it out of our hair, but we didn’t have to.

  8. keith4298 says:

    IF the venue had exenses (such as advertising) to get someone to take that spot, I can see a reasonable deduction in the amount given back to the OP, but keeping the entire thing smacks of bad business.

    If that’s the case, there IS NO CANCELLATION policy. You may as well, just not show up.

  9. Sizzlean says:

    She had a contract. If it doesn’t say anything about refundable fees in there then tough luck.

  10. kranky says:

    I understand why venues require full payment for wedding events. People plan weddings far in advance. It does the venue no good to require a 20% deposit then find out a month or two before the event the person is cancelling. Generally you’re not going to be able to rebook another wedding on that short notice. And weddings are the big moneymaking events. (although in this case the venue owner was able to get another event.)

    That said, in this case the OP is entitled to a partial refund and it’s unfair of the venue owner to insist on keeping it all – especially unfair to not allow the OP to use the deposit for another event!

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      It might not be an issue of fairness at all. What did the contract say when she booked the venue? If it says she loses it all, then tough luck.

      • regis-s says:

        If they’re going to make her live up to her end of the deal then they bloody well better hold up theirs. If she doesn’t get a partial refund she should show up on the specified date and expect everything that was contracted for. If there’s another function going on she should sue to venue operator.

        • frank64 says:

          You could invite the homeless!

        • TuxthePenguin says:

          Its all determined by the contract. If she cancelled, she probably forfeited any money. She knew she wasn’t going to get any back (from the description above). She should have not cancelled and found some other way to use the area.

          She’s really going after the wrong person – if her fiance was at fault for the engagement breaking off, she needs to be suing him.

        • nauip says:

          I came here to say this – throw a “I’m back in the market” party or something… If no refund, then no cancellation.

      • Waltersinister3 says:

        As I said to someone else above, please don’t give legal advice when you don’t know what you are talking about. Contract law is a major course in law school. Law students spend a lot of time on it. How much time do you think it would take to say “whatever the contract says goes”? Hint, not much.

        Among other things they teach is that when someone breaks a contract with you you can’t just sit there crying about it, you have a duty to mitigate. You have to take reasonable steps to get back as much value as you can. Then you are entitled to the difference (if any) from the breaching party. In this case, the business owner is entitled to the difference between what the original party was going to pay and what the person who stepped in to take the venue paid, plus reasonable expenses for advertising, etc. At most. That is only if it was reasonable to take half as much from someone however long after the event was canceled the new event was booked. A judge might very well find that accepting half as much wasn’t fulfilling the duty to mitigate, particularly if other venues under the same company were still being rented at full price.

        Small claims and start by contacting the new renters of the hall to see if they really are paying half as much as you are. My guess would be that that is a lie. A week after you booked and 9.75 months before the date and he could only get half as much? Smells fishy to me.

    • bbb111 says:

      “And weddings are the big moneymaking events. ”

      Some venues charge more for weddings than other events even if the services are the same. In a consumer information article a few years ago I read about someone who booked an event as a family gathering at a much lower rate than for the identical event as a wedding.

      Does anyone in the industry have any more examples of this?

      [I've seen business meeting food/drink costs at much higher rates than the same items delivered to a room in the same hotel.]

  11. cheviot says:

    This is easy.

    There’s a no-cancellation policy, right? Therefor the event hasn’t been canceled. Demand to have your event on your day, as per the contract.

    Now the venue owner has the venue double booked and he’ll NEED to settle with you to free the venue for the other leasee.

  12. Lyn Torden says:

    Sue for ONLY the amount of the re-booked venue.

  13. longfeltwant says:

    WOW six thousand dollars just for the venue? I have to assume she is a princess, or the daughter of a multi-billionaire, so frankly she should be able to eat the cost without worrying about it. The only other explanation is that she is a prima donna lacking both sense and proportion, and I wouldn’t want to slander her with that.

    The venue for my wedding cost a little bit under a hundred dollars. It would have been less, but we rented the park for the entire morning instead of just the thirty minutes we needed it. I might have preferred to have it somewhere for free, like a family member’s back yard, but hey spending the hundred dollars made it really nice.

    • Superfan75 says:

      Thats not really alot. Here on long Island, thats just getting started. I would have loved a cheap wedding, but on Long Island, it is not always a reality. Please don’t get me wrong, a cheap wedding can be done, it just takes some time.

    • eccsame says:

      Well, I guess that makes you more sensible AND better than anyone else. If you’re lucky, you can get in touch with her and call her a spoiled asshole in person.

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        If you’re lucky, you can get in touch with her and call her a spoiled asshole in person.

        No need to do something her ex-fiance has no doubt already done.

      • longfeltwant says:

        Not better than anyone else, just better in one dimension than people who have terrible judgement in that one dimension.

        If that’s what you meant, then yes, thank you.

    • dks64 says:

      Many venues include the catering, cake, flowers, decorations, cleanup, etc. I could see them hitting 6k easily.

  14. dush says:

    Just throw another party there at the time for your own friends. You’ve already rented the space and have a contract.

  15. waitaminute says:

    If the cancellation is not in writing, executed by both parties, then the cancellation has not happened. Refer to *axhandler1* and *fsnuffer* above.

  16. PragmaticGuy says:

    When I paid for my daughter’s wedding back in 2003 which wasn’t overly expensive but still ran more than $10,000 for the catering hall and food and such I only had to put down $1000. Maybe times have changed but to have to put down nearly $6000 seems like an awful lot of money.

  17. Ilovegnomes says:

    Here’s what’s unclear to me….

    http://www.powersmansioninn.com/bidforevbu.html

    The site has wedding packages that include the use of other vendors for specific price points since they are all inclusive. Was the $5,750 the full amount or a deposit on one of the larger packages that include more vendors? Why this is significant is because if they booked he largest package and cancelled the wedding and you have people involved such as catering services, DJ’s, bakers, photographers and officiants, but re-book the site for that date for an event that does not include those services, those people had a deposit put on their services for that day. If they had booked those people separately (instead of through the venue), they would experience the same issue of getting their deposit back because the venue owner would have had to forward the deposit money to those people and it would include an issue with multiple businesses being involved with the cancellation and not just one.

    They may be owed a partial refund but it seems like details are missing to whether that owner paid out the deposit to other vendors as part of booking the date.

  18. Chaluapman says:

    How about just not getting married in the first place. The number one cause of divorce in the world, is marriage.

  19. shufflemoomin says:

    Six grand for a wedding? I hope that’s for the whole deal including entertainment, food and drink because I’ve booked decent bands into local venues for about the same cash.