Like us on Facebook or break your lease, threatens apartment complex

THUMBFIST

Ever have somebody in your life who tries to control you? Maybe they use fear, intimidation, and guilt to manipulate you into doing something not necessarily in your best interest.

Those people are toxic.

But what about when it’s an apartment building, threatening that you’ll have breached your lease unless you not only friend it on Facebook but agree to let photos of you and your visitors be posted to its Facebook page?

The emotionally needy inanimate object in question is City Park Apartments, a condominium and apartment building in Salt Lake City.

Though it’s obviously seeking warm and fuzzy – it’s also outlawed bad Yelp reviews – the business was getting frigid and barbed comments and a miserable rating on its Facebook page as of Tuesday (the page was down at the time of publication of this article).

One such review:

The fact that you force people to “like” you on Facebook is straight hostile what if that person does not have Facebook you are going to force them to create one for face a penalty. Guess what you were looking for is lots of “likes” but what you got is lots of negative reviews that you only have a 1 star rating. Won’t move here I’ll find someone who allows me to Be free and not force me to do something like this Facebook mandatory. Good luck

As local news outlet KSL reports, the new “Facebook addendum” to the lease showed up taped to residents’ doors on Thursday night.

The addendum gave tenants five days to friend the complex, even though some had already signed a lease months ago. Attached was a photo release that would allow building management to post pictures of tenants and their visitors on the Facebook page.

What if you don’t have, or want, a Facebook account? What if you’re unable to create an account for whatever reason?

Well, exactly, Zachary Myers – a lawyer who specializes in tenant rights – told KSL:

The biggest issue that I have with it is that it seems to be discriminatory against elderly individuals and disabled individuals who are unable to utilize an online presence such as Facebook.

He also said that if a lease has already been signed, this add-on addendum likely isn’t enforceable in court.

This isn’t the first manipulative building to try to blackmail its tenants into adoring it.

Last year, it was Windermere Cay: the premiere, luxury, 100% smoke-free Florida community that’s just minutes from Walt Disney World and was apparently just millimeters from fining residents $10,000 for posting candid reviews on sites like Yelp, Apartment Ratings, Facebook or the like.

Of course, it’s understandable that a business wants to protect itself from bogus reviews.

Before it got to its 5-figure threat, Windemere Cay’s Social Media Addendum claimed that defamatory and unjustified reviews were being foisted on the apartment leasing industry by tenants trying to extort lower rental fees or other concessions from landlords.

That could be true.

One similar case is that of an incensed online mob that slammed a Manhattan restaurant for banning Google Glass, launching a campaign of low-star reviews from people who’d never stepped foot in the place.

Phony reviews from non-patrons hurt. That was established by a Harvard Business School study that found that for every one-star increase, restaurants see revenue increases between 5-9%.

City Park Apartments’ lawyers weren’t responding to news outlets as of Tuesday afternoon.

Punitive fines may seem like a great way to avoid the painful hit to a business’s bottom line, but legal experts say that such contracts are not only unenforceable; they’re also dangerous for a business, given the potential legal repercussions.

Santa Clara University Law Professor Eric Goldman explained it this way in the Windmere Cay case:

It would be a terrible idea to enforce this in court. A judge is going to shred it. If a person posts an Instagram photo of them having a party in their apartment, the landlord is saying they own that as well. The overreach reinforces that this clause is bad news, and it may be actionable just to ask.

But non-enforceability of such clauses is not a given. It’s best to avoid signing an addendum such as the ones presented by either of these property management outfits. Myers said that if you do, it just might be legally binding.

Besides the potential legal quagmire such a contract might put a business in, fining patrons for negative reviews is a proven path to getting reams of the negative reviews such clauses are designed to do away with.

Windemere’s Yelp reviews at the time of the misbegotten social media addendum are a case in point: it was sporting a gutter-dwelling 1.5 star average, mostly from people furious over news coverage of the addendum.

True to form, City Park Apartments was straddled with an even more woebegone Facebook rating of 1.1 stars as of Tuesday.

The practice of fining patrons for bad reviews isn’t new, by any means. In fact, California passed a bill in September 2014 that protects customers from getting penalized by companies after writing bad reviews.

The so-called Yelp Bill was passed in order to protect consumers against non-disparagement clauses that businesses sneak into consumer contracts and which forbid customers from leaving negative reviews on sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

If I were a City Park Apartments resident, I’d print out the text of that bill and staple it to the front of that Facebook addendum before handing it over to the property managers.

Sure, California law doesn’t hold in Utah, but my guess is if building managers actually think they can legally force Facebook likes out of people, the lights in that building are, shall we say, too dim to discern much.