Court Holds a Party Liable for an Incorrect Post to Yelp

In Bently Reserve L.P. v. Papaliolios, a California appellate court held a party liable for misstatements posted on “Yelp.” In Bently Reserve, the defendant was a tenant in a San Francisco apartment building. He moved out and then posted criticisms of his landlord on Yelp. He accused the landlord of being a “sociopathic narcissist” and contributing to the death of three tenants. He called the landlord “horrific and shameful.” Once the comments were posted to Yelp, the landlord complained and Yelp removed the comments. The tenant would then re-post them. The cycle repeated itself several times. Eventually, the landlord, his wife and his limited partnership sued the tenant for libel. The tenant filed a motion to strike claiming that the lawsuit was aimed at suppressing his right to speak in an open forum about an issue of public concern. The plaintiffs opposed the motion and showed that the statements made by the former tenant on Yelp were false. In fact, they proved that the tenants they accused of killing were alive. The court denied the motion to strike finding that the plaintiffs had carried their burden of showing that they had viable defenses. The tenant appealed and the appellate court affirmed. The appellate court noted that the reviews were “not mere opinion,” but were false statements. The court noted that, “Internet commentary does not ipso facto get a free pass under defamation law.”

In the real estate industry, we use social media, including Yelp frequently. It is important that we are cautious in ensuring that we make truthful statements to avoid liability.

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