Can You Get Sued for Tweeting About Mold?

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The latest from my neck of the woods has Chicago realty group Horizon suing a former tenant $50,000 in damages over a tweet. On May 12, Amanda Bonnen tweeted the following:Realty TweetSeemingly innocuous right? It’s the kind of content that a stream-of-consciousness oriented medium might be expected to produce. And hey, it could be a worse.

Apparently it can’t be. Horizon released a statement yesterday that contained the following sentence:

As you can imagine, allegations of mold are taken very seriously by our organization.

And earlier in the week Jeff Michael, whose family owns the company, told the Chicago Sun-Times the Horizon Realty Group was “a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” It doesn’t matter that Bonnen had only 20 followers at the time of her tweet or that her account has since been deleted. (See the Google cached version here.)

This story reminds me of a lawsuit that came up in a recent Mother Jones investigation. In the July/August issue of Mother Jones, Adam Matthews writes about the evils of big property owners Stellar Management. When former residents of Stellar’s San Francisco Parkmerced complex anonymously complained about the facilities and management on ApartmentRatings.com, Stellar subpoened the website for the identities of the commenters. Good thing they didn’t check out Yelp!, where, coincidentally, many of the complaints focus on the apparently prohibitive mold situation.

Now obviously the only reason Amanda Bonnen’s story has garnered so much attention is because Twitter was involved. Look past the Twitter craze, however, and there is something at stake about the way we live now. For young professionals and students, the internet is increasingly the beginning, middle, and end of the apartment search. Horizon Group Realty acknowledges as much with the online lease application and rent pay apps featured on their website. As with so many other things, the internet has shone a bright ray of information into a formerly dark corner. In this case, it found mold. Whether or not Bonnen ends up forking over the 50k, are you going to be more careful about what you tweet? I didn’t think so…

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And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

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