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Worried about Defamation, Libel, or Slander? If these are concerns read below!

What is defamation law?

Defamation Law falls under Tort Law. It refers to false statements about a person, communicated as fact to one or more other persons by an individual or entity (such as a person, newspaper, magazine, or political organization), which causes damage and does harm to the target's reputation and/or standing in the community. Defamation is addressed primarily by state legislation. However, Constitutional Law may also apply, as the right of freedom of speech also extends to certain defamation claims. Defamation is categorized as either Slander or Libel.

The general harm caused by defamation is identified as being ridiculed, shamed, hated, scorned, belittled or held in contempt by others, and lowers him/her in esteem of a reasonably prudent person, due to the communication of the false statement. This tort can result in a lawsuit for damages. Many states have statutes requiring that the allegedly damaged party must first demand a printed retraction of the defamatory statement, before they may proceed to court. If the plaintiff proceeds with a lawsuit without first seeking the retraction or if he/she receives a retraction but proceeds anyway, most states will limit the damages they may pursue to the actual or special damages they experienced, such as loss of employment or wages.

Malice - if intentional malice can be shown/proven, than the act usually qualifies as defamation for damage to one's reputation. However, even without this, if it is obvious that the statement would do harm and that it is untrue, one can still pursue this tort if he/she can demonstrate actual/tangible harm, such as loss of business (called special damages).

Libel is defamatory statements and/or pictures published in print or writing; or broadcast in the media, such as over the radio, on TV or in film. The publication does not need to be made to more than one person to qualify as libel. However, it must be represented as a fact, not an opinion. If one libels the reputation of a deceased person, the target's heirs may be able to bring an action for damages.

Oral defamatory statements are categorized as slander. Damages for slander are generally more difficult to identify and prove; although when malice is involved, it can be easier to accomplish. These statements must also be represented as fact, rather than just an opinion, to be considered slanderous. Slander of title refers to a remark regarding property ownership which maligns the owner and his/her ability to transfer the property, and results in a monetary loss.

Defamation Per Se refers to defamatory statements that are so vicious and the harm is so obvious, that malice is assumed, and proof of intent is not required for general damages (i.e. falsely accusing someone of committing a crime involving immorality; claiming someone has a repugnant, contagious disease; or statements claiming that the individual is unfit or unable to perform his employment duties.) Most states specifically recognize these categories of false statements as defamatory per se. Libel per se is also referred to as libel on its face, meaning it meets all the required elements without further proof. Defamation Per Quod is the opposite of per se, in that it is not obvious and extrinsic proof is required to demonstrate that the communication was damaging.

Exclusions/Exceptions/Defenses to defamation

• "fair comment" - a statement of opinion which was arrived at based on accurate facts, which do not allege dishonorable motives by the person about whom the statements were made.

• Statements made about a public person (political candidates, governmental officeholder, movie star, author, celebrity, sports hero, etc.) are usually exempt, even if they are untrue and harmful. However, if they were made with malice - with hate, dislike, intent and/or desire to harm and with reckless disregard for the truth - the public person may have a cause of action. This was determined by the U.S. Supreme Court and has been re-interpreted various times.

• Minor errors in reporting, such as publishing a person's age or title inaccurately or providing the wrong address.

• Governmental bodies due to the premise that a non-personal entity cannot have intent.

• Public records are exempt from claims of libel.

• Truth - the communication was true.

Copyright HG.org

Definition for Libel

li·bel

/ˈlīb(ə)l/

noun

  • 1.a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation.

  • 2.(in admiralty and ecclesiastical law) a plaintiff's written declaration.

Definition for Slander

slan·der

/ˈslandər/

noun

  • 1.the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation:"he is suing the TV network for slander"

Key Takeaway

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The key points that ring out in each of both webster's definitions as well as the legal definitions is false statements. If you are placing false statements on this site or any site to be malicious to a tenant you don't like then there may be grounds for defamation or libel. Obviously it would have to be proven and there would have to be damages. The key word is false. Make sure to place truthful information and do so objectively and without malice and you will be within the bounds of what you can legally do. Enjoy and Happy Landholding!

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Legal Definition of Defamation

Any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person's reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.

Defamation may be a criminal or civil charge. It encompasses both written statements, known as libel, and spoken statements, called slander.

The probability that a plaintiff will recover damages in a defamation suit depends largely on whether the plaintiff is a public or private figure in the eyes of the law. The public figure law of defamation was first delineated in new york times v. sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct. 710, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1964). In Sullivan, the plaintiff, a police official, claimed that false allegations about him appeared in the New York Times, and sued the newspaper for libel. The Supreme Court balanced the plaintiff's interest in preserving his reputation against the public's interest in freedom of expression in the area of political debate. It held that a public official alleging libel must prove actual malice in order to recover damages. The Court declared that the First Amendment protects open and robust debate on public issues even when such debate includes "vehement, caustic, unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." A public official or other plaintiff who has voluntarily assumed a position in the public eye must prove that defamatory statements were made with knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard of whether they were false.

Where the plaintiff in a defamation action is a private citizen who is not in the public eye, the law extends a lesser degree of constitutional protection to defamatory statements. Public figures voluntarily place themselves in a position that invites close scrutiny, whereas private citizens who have not entered public life do not relinquish their interest in protecting their reputation. In addition, public figures have greater access to the means to publicly counteract false statements about them. For these reasons, a private citizen's reputation and privacy interests tend to outweigh free speech considerations and deserve greater protection from the courts. (See Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 94 S. Ct. 2997, 41 L. Ed. 2d 789 [1974]).

Distinguishing between public and private figures for the purposes of defamation law is sometimes difficult. For an individual to be considered a public figure in all situations, the person's name must be so familiar as to be a household word—for example, Michael Jordan. Because most people do not fit into that category of notoriety, the Court recognized the limited-purpose public figure, who is voluntarily injected into a public controversy and becomes a public figure for a limited range of issues. Limited-purpose public figures, like public figures, have at least temporary access to the means to counteract false statements about them. They also voluntarily place themselves in the public eye and consequently relinquish some of their privacy rights. For these reasons, false statements about limited-purpose public figures that relate to the public controversies in which those figures are involved are not considered defamatory unless they meet the actual-malice test set forth in Sullivan.

Determining who is a limited-purpose public figure can also be problematic. In Time, Inc. v. Firestone, 424 U.S. 448, 96 S. Ct. 958, 47 L. Ed. 2d 154 (1976), the Court held that the plaintiff, a prominent socialite involved in a scandalous Divorce, was not a public figure because her divorce was not a public controversy and because she had not voluntarily involved herself in a public controversy. The Court recognized that the divorce was newsworthy, but drew a distinction between matters of public interest and matters of public controversy. In Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111, 99 S. Ct. 2675, 61 L. Ed. 2d 411 (1979), the Court determined that a scientist whose federally supported research was ridiculed as wasteful by Senator William Proxmire was not a limited-purpose public figure because he had not sought public scrutiny in order to influence others on a matter of public controversy, and was not otherwise well-known.

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Landlord Sues Tenant for Libel Over Tweet About 'Moldy Apartment'

An apartment management company in Illinois has sued a tenant for libel over a “malicious and defamatory” tweet about the state of her apartment to her 20 followers on Twitter.

Chicago Bar-Tender has the complaint (PDF) filed by Horizon Group Management against Amanda Bonnen, who was a tenant in one of its Chicago buildings. The complaint notes that the @abonnen account named in the complaint had only 20 followers (the account appears to no longer be live). The blog also has a screen shot of @abonnen’s May 12 tweet reply:

“You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.”

The Cook County Circuit Court complaint includes @abonnen’s entire Twitter feed between April 27 and July 13 as Exhibit A, and it notes that because the @abonnen account was public, “anybody in the world can view the account holder’s tweets.” The complaint contends that because the “statement damaged the plaintiff’s reputation in its business, the statement is libel per se.”

Horizon Realty Group issued a press release (PDF provided by The Legal Satyricon) on July 28 in which general counsel Jeff Michael stated that Bonnen had filed suit against Horizon on July 24, and that Horizon had discovered the tweet while conducting due diligence in response to that suit.

The complaint seeks a jurisdictional amount of damages and contends that because Bonnen’s tweet is defamatory per se damages to the plaintiff’s reputation “are presumed.”

Updated July 29 to include Horizon press release.

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Smearing Landlords Online Proves Risky for Tenants

A Los Angeles man was featured in the news this week, explaining to reporters that he and his girlfriend are now homeless after he posted a series of  comments about his girlfriend’s landlord.

The boyfriend set up a Facebook page that includes at least 36 posts alleging the landlord is a slumlord and the building is neglected. That has prompted an eviction action, and a lawsuit for defamation.

According to the report, the girlfriend and her mother lived in the residence for 20 years. The landlord has owned the property for the past two years. The landlord’s lawyer says it is working on any needed repairs, but that the condition of the unit was caused by the boyfriend’s DIY work there. Specifically, the landlord says that carpeting was pulled up, a wall removed, holes made in walls, and that the kitchen cabinets have been removed, according to the report.

The landlord had agreed to pay for a hotel for the girlfriend and her mother to stay while the unit was being renovated. However, the negative comments and alleged threats made during renovation resulted in the landlord  stopping the payments and instead serving the girlfriend with an eviction notice.  The boyfriend is not an authorized resident. The mother has been allowed back into the property, according to the report.

This is not the first time landlords have taken to the courts to overcome negative publicity. Four years ago, a Chicago tenant was sued for tweeting that the apartment she lived in was riddled with mold. While the suit was eventually dismissed, many legal scholars criticized the court for not fully appreciating the damage that can occur on social media sites like Twitter.

While many people feel they have the right to free speech online, that’s not always the way courts interpret derogatory comments about businesses. For instance, a California Appellate Court allowed a landlord to proceed with a defamation case against a former tenant for posting a negative review in Yelp. The tenant claimed that his words were his opinion, and therefore couldn’t be defamatory. But the court found that such comments could be construed as facts. In that case, the tenant called the landlord a “sociopath” and suggested that made him dangerous. The landlord claimed that he could prove with medical evidence that the allegation is untrue.

Online comments can be surprisingly damaging to a landlords reputation, and in turn, the ability to fill vacancies. Because of the direct financial consequences, it’s a good idea to watch what is happening online.  Otherwise, apartment seekers only see the tenant’s side of the story, and that can have long-lasting consequences.

Typically, only the poster can take down false comments posted online. Many online rating services allow the landlord to publish a reply, or to object if the statements made are inflammatory or clearly untrue. By publicly protesting, readers are better able to judge the credibility of the tenant’s comments.

It is also possible to go after the tenant for false making false statements. To prove defamation, a landlord has to show that the statements aren’t true, so it helps to be on the right side of the facts. Landlords also have to prove that their reputation was damaged, so if you feel you’ve been wronged by an online comment or review, be sure to keep goods records of responses to ads and other contacts with applicants and tenants.

Victims who sue for defamation run the risk of drawing more attention to the controversy. At the same time, fighting back can show that the landlord is offended by the false allegations, which can win over viewers on the site.

Damages for defamation can include lost profits, and in some states, punitive damages can be awarded.

Tenant Successfully sues Landlord for Libel For Giving a Bad Reference.

For those of you still shaking in  your boots and living in fear of the dreaded lawsuit I haven't found one recorded incidence of a landlord being sued for defamation or libel due to saying the evicted a tenant which they evicted. I will however encourage you to do your own research and if you find one let me know and I'll happily place it on here. There are however to the left two separate cases both in leftist states where landlords came very close to winning suits and definitely had the tenants surprised and in fear.

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