Social media can be both a blessing and a curse for all business owners, including property owners. This gives users a platform to share with everyone their experiences, whether they are good or bad.
Think about when you had a really terrible experience with a business. You probably couldn’t wait to post about it on your social media account to share your experience. Then your friends will share this and your experience could make waves. But the problem here is this: what if the bad experience was not truly representative of what actually happened?
This is a problem that happens more often than you would think with landlords and their tenants. Through avenues like Reddit and Yelp as well as apartment review sites like Apartments.com and ApartmentRatings.com, frustrated tenants have the audience to rant about their landlords. Sometimes the landlords more than deserve the treatment that they are getting, but other times tenants have valid complaints that need to be addressed. What happens if you are a landlord that is getting bashed by a tenant and there is no validity to their claims? Should landlords sue if tenants post an unfair review online?
There was a court case (Bently Reserve L.P. v. Papaliolios) where this exact thing happened. Bently Reserve L.P. purchased the building where Andreas Papaliolios lived and there was a very contentious relationship between these parties. Eventually, there was a failed attempt to evict him from the property. Later on, Papaliolios left on his own but decided to post unflattering and scathing reviews about his former landlord including referring to him as a “sociopathic narcissist”. Bently did get these reviews reported to Yelp which led to them being removed, however, Papaliolios would continue to post these reviews. Bently decided that there was no other option but to sue his former tenant for libel.
There was a long back and forth over this lawsuit. While there was an affirmation of Papaliolios having the right to criticize his former landlord, there was a problem when the misrepresentation of facts. Ultimately the lawsuit was ruled in favor of Bently. There was a precedent that was made in this case about what the line in when it comes to critiques and statement of facts.
As a landlord, it is important to know when you should do something about a bad review. The first thing to do is to determine if the claims are true. Do your research to see what truths can be found in these claims. If this turns up nothing, discuss the review with your (former) tenant. Send a formal letter that asks for them to remove the false review or to face a lawsuit. You should only sue your tenant if they post an untruth. They say that the best defense against libel is the truth. A lawsuit should not be your first action against your tenant, but it can be a highly effective way to clear your name from false claims on top review sites.