Chicago’s Horizon Realty Group Sues Woman For $50,000 Over A Tweet

Jul 28th, 2009 | By | Category: General, Microblogging

Chicago’s Horizon Realty, a property management company, filed a $50,000 libel lawsuit Monday against a former tenant, Amanda Bonnen, over one of her alleged Twitter posts.

Horizon argues that Bonnen libeled the company with her May 12th tweet, which read in part “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon Realty thinks it’s okay.”

Bonnen’s alleged twitter account, abonnen, is no longer active. But, based on information in Google’s cache, it appears that Bonnen had 22 followers.

“The statements are obviously false, and it’s our intention to prove that,” said Horizon’s Jeffrey Michael. “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” Michael added that the company has a “good reputation it wants to preserve.”

Sue First, Ask Questions Later

Horizon may be breaking new ground in public relations with its response.

By suing Bonnen for $50,000 over a tweet that was probably seen by a fraction of abonnen’s 22 followers, the company is bringing Bonnen’s complaint to tens of thousands of readers on Twitter, in blogs and in news stories that the situation will generate.

Instead of preserving the company’s “good reputation”, Horizon Realty is establishing itself as a “sue first, ask questions later” kind of company.

The kind of company that will sue you for $50,000 if you have something bad to say about one of their apartments.

If Horizon’s lawsuit goes forward, fixing the damage it will do to the company’s reputation will take a lot more than $50,000.

Horizon’s response looks like a textbook case of what not to do when faced with a new media PR problem. What do you think the right response would have been?

Update: Horizon has responded to the controversy over the lawsuit, saying that their lawsuit was part of their response to a class action lawsuit filed by Ms. Bonnen. (pdf)

Horizon Realty is now the top search result for Twitter lawsuit in Google.

Amanda Bonnen’s Twitter stream (Google cache) shows that Horizon was one of many targets of her complaints:

  • Top five of worst flights ever. Never again spirit air.3:45 PM Jul 9th from mobile web
  • All of these people eating McDonalds is making me want to hurl.12:28 PM Jul 9th from mobile web
  • I can tell im on the right flight for fort meyers, the average age tends to be about 70.12:09 PM Jul 9th from mobile web
  • Damn you Ohare and your 2hr security lines.11:25 AM Jul 9th from mobile web
  • Whoever designed the train with the bi-fold doors was a duche.4:30 PM Jul 2nd from mobile web
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86 Responses to “Chicago’s Horizon Realty Group Sues Woman For $50,000 Over A Tweet”

  1. Parkylondon says:

    I just Tweeted this:

    “Sue first, ask questions later” WTF? http://tinyurl.com/l7xkxl #horizon Please Retweet. [Don't forget the hashtag - let's have at them!]

    Please retweet and use the #horizon hashtag…

  2. sabrina says:

    Well, I hate to be boring and not, y’know, sue, but I’d say a more correct response to it would have been one I’ve gotten from a couple of places when I’ve tweeted criticism of their product: @reply to me with an offer to help resolve the situation. I mean, it’s no fun for the poor bored legal team, but at least there’s much less bad publicity.

  3. I agree with Sabrina. Obviously a tenant was unhappy and the correct response for the company would have been to publicly do their best to rectify the situation. A reply to the tweet with a solution to her complaint would have been appropriate. “Sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization” also probably isn’t one of the best company philosophies to put out there either; It might give the impression the company is covering up something–but that’s just my opinion. In public relations, it’s often best to simply be truthful. The public tends to be pretty smart and they’ll see through it otherwise. And the public is often forgiving too. Horizon still has opportunity to rectify the situation: drop the lawsuit, admit to potential error and fix the original mold issue. Wha-lah.

  4. elwin says:

    Good move, Jeffrey Michael! Now you’ve got a reputation for suing people because you’ve got moldy apartments.

  5. [...] for instance the story of Amanda Bowen, a Chicago apartment dweller with a Twitter account that used to have a mere 22 followers. She made a comment on Twitter about here apartment’s property management company that landed [...]

  6. kaylar says:

    I live in Jamaica; I wouldn’t have known about this if I hadn’t read it here…brilliant move on Horizon’s part, don’t you think? And hey…if the apartment is moldy…Amanda is going to collect Big Time…

  7. Steinar says:

    The correct thing to do would be to either ignore the tweet (c’mon, 22 followers?) or ask the person direct how to fix the situation. Their reaction is just plain stupid.

  8. X says:

    Well, I know I personally won’t be using their services. Have fun with preserving your “reputation”, Horizon.

  9. [...] Podcasting News reports that Ms. Bonnen had all of 22 followers in her now inactive Twitter account. [...]

  10. Hahaha…
    Never even heard of twitter before.
    Now – Sitting in Greenland I know that the Horizon Group Management suited Amanda Bonnen for her short one sentence line about Mold.
    They all got famous from that lawsuit.
    If I were in a housing situation in Chicago I might have used Horizon, but now I’ll forever remember not to…
    Ridiculous! What kind of a judge would accept such a lawsuit?

  11. John Beelar says:

    The company is behaving just plain stupidly. They should sue themselves for making such a bonehead move.

  12. AlanG says:

    Check out Amanda Bonnen’s Twitter stream in Google’s cache!

    It’s pretty funny. She’s going off about getting her moving van towed because it was illegally parked, and ragging on Michael Jackson fans sad over his death.

    Looks like she wasn’t happy about anything!

  13. Glenn Gillen says:

    Nice work Horizon. I live in a completely different country, and now I know that if I ever move to Chicago I should be on the lookout for mould in my apartment… and not rent through you.

  14. Micah says:

    Please update the title of the article to include the text “Horizon Realty” With the number of links I’ve seen to this article, you could probably claim the #1 Google spot for that search phrase, thereby sealing their coffin for this idiotic PR move.

  15. 0ffh says:

    lol epic fail!

  16. Ryan says:

    This is too funny… from the Horizon webpage:

    Horizon Realty Group is recognized as one of Chicago’s premiere apartment leasing and property management companies. Over the past 25 years, we have continuously raised expectations by stressing exemplary customer service and constant improvements to our apartments.

    Horizon Realty Group is a family-owned and operated property management company that understands the importance of providing a quality living environment and the care and attention to detail that is required by our tenants. As a result, our apartments typically include amenities and finishes that you will not find at other properties.

    …”we have continuously raised expectations by stressing exemplary customer service and constant improvements to our apartments.”…

    yeah — sounds like some exemplary customer service, sue your tenants when they complain about problems with the apartment!

  17. Frank says:

    Wow, way to epicly fail Horizon Realty Group.
    I live all the way in Georgia and I would have never even heard about you or your company until I read this.
    “Sue first, ask questions later kind of company” Really? Really?!?

    Sounds like a company with something to hide. Bullying your tennants for $50,000 because she was unsatisfied with the product that you sold her is by far the WORST example of customer service that I have ever seen.
    You’ve brought all this negative press upon yourselves. Good job.

  18. Scott says:

    I can’t wait for Amanda to do the morning show circuit with her story. That will surely get Horizon a lot of good press. LOL

  19. Angry american says:

    Is this what the businesses of America have come to? Its ridiculous. If I was her I would counter sue for emotional and psychological damages just to piss off Horizon Realty. And to think I almost did rent from them. Idiots.

  20. Don't Sue me! says:

    Watch out Horizen might sue you for writing this blog post or even leaving a comment here!

  21. Drew says:

    Interesting comment from my father while discussing this….

    Yeah…libel is a funny creature. Seems people just don’t like other people talking trash about them on the Internet.

    Now…if Horizon told this woman, “it’s okay to sleep in a moldy apartment”, and she can prove it, it’s not libel…she should post her evidence. However, if she’s just having trouble getting Horizon to solve the problem, she should have tweeted, “Horizon rented me a moldy apartment and won’t answer my calls or come and fix it.” That’s not libel; that’s the facts. Her jump to the unreasonable conclusion presented as fact is libel.

    Social networking comes with responsibility. If the government cant’s regulate it (I don’t think they should), and consumers abuse it, then litigation is the only answer.

    Lesson to learn; think twice before you tweet, post, poke or otherwise expose yourself on the Internet; we’ve been telling you that since you were kids.

    Pops

  22. NotLawyer says:

    So, libel is acceptable on a Tweet? Why is Horizon the bad guy? Did they really tell her, “it’s okay to sleep in a moldy apartment.”? If they did, she should sue. If they didn’t, she’s committed libel! Why shouldn’t she be sued?
    Social networking comes with responsibility…if you don’t want regulation, then be responsible.

  23. [...] Chicago Realty Group Sues Woman For $50,000 Over A Tweet Google Maps Street View capture… from a bike How Google Chrome for Mac appears to launch so fast The third largest stock exchange in America is a startup Read This If You Hate Meetings There is no WiFi allergy: newspapers misreport PR as science Infinity Is Not a Number – It’s a Free Man Ask HN: What to do when your company misses payroll? Richard Feinman explains Confusion – a good definition of “hacker”? Daring Fireball on Apple’s Rejection of Google Voice Apps From App Store Google Voice iPhone app rejected Python & MySQLdb – Part 1: The Absolute Basics Barcodes for the rest of us IBM acquires SPSS Dan Weinreb: Programming with concurrency, clojure excitement Basecamp, now with more vroom ‘360 video camera played with flash Diminishing Returns in Humanities Research Misultin is an Erlang library for building fast lightweight HTTP servers. Declines in Online Ad Revenues Partly Due to Ignoring Mobile Visitors Sudoku Magic allows you to take a photo of sudoku on iPhone and it solves it Transparent aluminium is ‘new state of matter’ Ramen Profitable Fun with NULL pointers (how the 2.6.30 exploit works) John Conway & Simon Kochen Discuss The Free Will Of Subatomic Particles Great place for hacker recipes Useful kernel and driver performance tweaks for your Linux server Groupon – Cool Business Model Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Best of CSS Design 2008Free XHTML/CSS Templates For Web DesignFugly Friday – Twitter design disastersiPhone Apps: To Pay or Not to Pay? [...]

  24. Rj says:

    To the writer of this article underestimates the broad reach of Twitter. Assuming that JUST her followers see her Tweet is very wrong. The fact that every single twitter user searching for any keyword matching the name of the realty company, or any part of the context of that request can be easily found. Deleting her tweet will not clear it as they’re cached for days at a time or at least until more keywords of the same type bump the tweet off the displayable search area. This can take a lot of time to do.

    Add to this that now Bing.com (search engine) are just now beginning to pull in direct searches from Twitter into search results you’ve got an even broader reach. The point is don’t make false accusation unless you can freely back them up, or else you are indeed liable for this type of behavior. Posting on-line without any delusions of anonymity (logged in registered twitter account) with false accusations against a company will lead you in just as much hot water as picketing outside their company headquarters. The point is don’t say it unless it’s true, and if it’s not true at least try to make it anonymous so you don’t end up getting sued for $50,000 for what I can only imagine is a severe case of exaggeration.

  25. Don't Sue Me Horizon says:

    Companies need to use some judgment, too. Suing may be an option, but it’s a stupid one, in this case.

    I can’t imagine a court taking this case seriously. Besides, they’re destroying whatever reputation they have with this douchebag move.

  26. Bill Douchebag says:

    Don’t sue me horizon:
    I take offense to your remark as “douchebag” happens to be my last name. It would be advisable that you take care in your selection of words, lest you find yourself in a righteous lawsuit yourself.
    Bill

  27. Molly says:

    That just show you that THE RICH ALWAYS WINS IN AMERICA !!!

  28. Sharlene says:

    Ha!

    Not that I encourage needless suing, but it’d be really choice if she sued them for false advertising for “exemplary customer service”.

  29. Bob says:

    Yep… tort reform should fix just about 2/3s of what ails this country. Thank you Horizon for helping the cause for tort reform. Of course in their area, they are probably the good guys.

  30. Sharlene says:

    Your article needs to be corrected:

    At the time of the tweet, she only had 20 followers – not 22.

    It’s also worth mentioning that they’re suing over a tweet from May 12, 2009. That’s over 2 months ago… in the Twitterverse, that’s ancient.

  31. Terrillific says:

    It would be cool if she could write a song about it like the guy who wrote this song called “United Breaks Guitars”. They broke his guitar on a flight and they refused to buy him a new one so he wrote a song about it and now its gone viral with over 4.3 million views. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

  32. halfwinter says:

    That makes me so angry. I had a similar experience recently. I purchased a faulty product from a company last year and when I posted a negative review on YouTube, the owner threatened to sue me if I didn’t delete it and “say nice things” about him and his company on the internet. Why don’t people understand? Good service = good review. Bad service + Threats = Bad review. Ridiculous!

  33. john dean says:

    I would have fixed the problem, then sent a message to all 22 followers. That would leave a positive image and a small publicty footprint. also anyone searching the subject would also see the reply. Who knows, the original lady might have left a positive message if they had actually done something, instead of suing her!

  34. Liz says:

    I had no idea who Horizon Realty was before today. Now I know they are a petty, sue-happy company I’d never do business with because they do not know how to resolve a simple problem with one of their consumers.

    I predict that Horizon Realty will have to sue hundreds of people who will now include a slide about this company in their Powerpoint presentations of “How Not to React to Criticism of Your Company.”

  35. The more usual response in this situation has been for the company to solve the user’s problem, not punish them for them for making what may be a valid complaint. When a high-profile user makes a complaint about a product, the company falls all over themselves to earn some good PR by solving it. A lawsuit makes it look like they’ve got something to cover up.

  36. Is suing really fair or even lawful? I mean she had 22 followers. Were her tweets really affecting anyone? And so many people go on twitter insulting or coming at other companies but they don’t try to sue. Why? Because it’s freedom of speech. Obviously these people do have moldy apartments or they wouldn’t be so angry. $50,000 is more than enough to “fix” this stupid problem. Let’s be honest; she has 22 followers. 14 of which were prolly spammers. The other 8 probably paid it no mind or agreed because they were staying in the shitty apartments as well. And do they really think they can even get $50,000 out of someone with only 22 followers? WTF?! They killed themselves by even responding to what she said. Now it’s a bigger deal than it needs to be so kudos to their PR.

  37. LolHorizon says:

    @NotLawyer, Horizon has the right and ability to sue. That does not mean it is a wise decision. If Horizon Realty would have ignored the tweet none of us would be talking about it now. By deciding to file a lawsuit they have managed to become a trending topic on Twitter, front paged on reddit and Digg, and the lawsuit is now in the first page results of a Google search for Horizon Realty. This is an example that should be added to the curriculum of PR and marketing classes as an example of what not to do.

    Search for Horizon Realty on Google? You see that they sued a former tenant. That’s a PR nightmare.

  38. [...] some formerly obscure realty company in Chicago is suing one of their former tenants for criticizing their building on Twe… to her 22 followers. When asked about the lawsuit, company representative Jeffrey Michael stated [...]

  39. Anthony says:

    Horizon Realty Presser in response to Twitter controversy:
    http://www.horizonrealtygroup.com/UserFiles/file/PressRelease.pdf

    The hole just gets deeper and deeper… what is wrong with them?

  40. Chicagoed says:

    I wonder what file they had on the woman’s complaints before someone decided to aggressively go after her for libel. I’m sure that the discovery process will uncover some of that and we can see how much the left hand knew about what the right hand was doing.

    I’ve had friends who had apartments with Horizon, they seemed rather rules-driven when it came to moving in and using elevators, I’m not surprised that they lead with sticks rather than carrots.

  41. Sarcasmo says:

    So, if you go to their site you can inquire about places. I just sent a sarcastic one in. Feel free to let them know how you feel, and don’t forget to warn them that your a sue first kind of tenant/person.

    Hehe, if i lost 50k over something as dumb as this, i’d quickly become a swing-first kinda person :)

  42. [...] Realty Group in Chicago goes into my special category of The Dumbest PR Moves.  As this post from podcastingnews reports, they are suing a tenant over a pretty darn mild tweet complaining about the mold in an apartment. [...]

  43. Carter says:

    “So, libel is acceptable on a Tweet? Why is Horizon the bad guy? Did they really tell her, “it’s okay to sleep in a moldy apartment.”? If they did, she should sue. If they didn’t, she’s committed libel! Why shouldn’t she be sued?
    Social networking comes with responsibility…if you don’t want regulation, then be responsible.”

    Go back to bed, Jeffrey Michael.

  44. ewill says:

    Can’t believe the number of people that are debating whether this is libel or not.

    Don’t you guys understand that this is a completely idiotic business move on Horizon’s part? How can this type of public relations debacle help them?

  45. [...] Chicago Realty Group Sues Woman For $50,000 Over A Tweet - Podcasting News [...]

  46. [...] admin on Jul.28, 2009, under Black Hat Seo Horizon Realty Group must want Googlers to find that they are a sue first ask questions last kind of company; I’m [...]

  47. [...] Chicago Realty Group Sues Woman For $50,000 Over A Tweet – Chicago’s Horizon Realty, a property management company, filed a $50,000 libel lawsuit Monday against a former tenant, Amanda Bonnen, over one of her alleged Twitter posts. [...]

  48. [...] came across a post on Podcasting News about how Horizon Realty, a property management company, filed a $50,000 libel lawsuit Monday [...]

  49. Landis says:

    I don’t think Horizon Reality is doing the right thing! I mean its way to harsh.
    I was ranting all morning about it and I put some of it down in words.
    http://yovia.com/blogs/lgrenville/2009/07/29/twitter-libel-or-freedom-of-speech/

  50. Bill Vincent says:

    Is everyone missing the point here? The Twitter suit *IS* a counter-suit. Bonnen STARTED this, by suing Horizon for something that every other tenant in her complex felt was resolved.

    This isn’t about Freedom of Speech, it’s about one woman, who, by all things I’ve seen, is never happy about anything, filed a frivolous lawsuit, and is being counter-sued on principle, pretty common.

    Don’t use ONE ARTICLE to form your opinion.

    • Mrs. Z says:

      The real point in the end is that Horizon handled this situation very poorly. Instead of taking a proactive approach to promote their good name they chose to strong-arm the situation. Were they wrong in wanting to protect their company’s image? Absolutely not. Did they go about that the wrong way? Definitely. It’s been over six months and this situation is being used as a teaching tool for social media marketers. Wrong or right, sometimes it’s not what you’re saying but how you say it.

  51. MANNY HERALD says:

    Jeffrey Michael – horizon realty group – jmichael@horizonrealtygroup.com
    4242 N. Sheridan Road #120 – Chicago, IL60613 – 773-529-7200

    RAISE HELL – CONTACT FOR FUN – RAISE HELL(O) – PUBLISH AND MAKE A STINK!!!

    OH YEAH!!

  52. Mahender says:

    Horizon better change their name and change their business practices if they want to continue in business.

  53. [...] Horizon Realty Group must want Googlers to find that they are a sue first ask questions last kind of company; I’m certainly glad to help! [...]

  54. Gary Cameron says:

    Dear Horizon:

    Nice to know you are a sue first and ask questions later kind of company.

    What exactly did you expect to accomplish with your lawsuit? Bully others into not tweeting bad things about your company should they find sub-standard suites that are full of mold and bed bugs? Boost your Google ranking?

    You have now seen the awesome power of Twitter. You COULD have been using it to BOOST your image but it is kind of late for that now.

    I wonder how many university and college students were considering renting from you who may have changed their mind. I can’t help but wonder how a story like this would spread through a college campus. Classes start soon you know.

    Cheers!

  55. [...] La comunidad twitter ardió con la noticia, los noticieros la captaron, la empresa salió con declaraciones que no hicieron mejor las cosas: “nuestra política es demandar primero, preguntar después”. no se la acabaron en [...]

  56. AllRise says:

    Why take this to court when you can settle the case at AllRise.com – An online community court room.
    Just enter click on the case link http://www.allrise.com/cases/Chicago_Realty_Group-vs-Amanda_Bonnen/208
    Debate over it, and cast your vote to influence the real verdict.

  57. [...] Yes the dangers are real. But apparently these dangers extend beyond mere physical health.  In case you’ve been hiding in a hole I invite you to find out about Amanda Bonner and Horizon Realty. [...]

  58. James says:

    I am a tenant of Horizon Realty Group. I can tell you first hand that there is no mold in these apartments. While it may be a little over kill to have sued Bonnen because it is a much bigger problem now than it would have been otherwise, if she made a false claim- they have every right to sue her.
    Besides, if you look at some of her past tweets you can see that she complained about everything. If you ask me, someone that pissed off had it coming.
    As for everyone saying they wouldn’t rent for horizon now- don’t believe everything you read. Most of the news articles fail to include that horizon is suing Bonnen as a counter suite. She filed a suite on them earlier. Learn to read morons!

  59. [...] other bloggers started talking about it too. In fact, my friend Sonia Simone, writing at Internet [...]

  60. [...] La comunidad twitter ardió con la noticia, los noticieros la captaron, la empresa salió con declaraciones que no hicieron mejor las cosas: “nuestra política es demandar primero, preguntar después”. no se la acabaron en [...]

  61. [...] Chicago Realty Group Sues Woman For $50,000 Over A Tweet [...]

  62. Adel says:

    “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon Realty thinks it’s okay.”

    is not the same as “My apartment is moldy.”

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