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On the naughty step


naughty step badge For this Naughty Step, we’re going trans-atlantic. A warm welcome to the Step for Horizon Group Management, a property owner/management firm from Chicago.

Horizon cannot be said to lack a pioneering spirit (or, as we shall see, a snappy way with a soundbite, catastrophically counter-productive, but snappy). For Horizon are the first firm to bring a defamation claim against a tenant, for a tweet on Twitter.

what is twitterFor those of you looking puzzled or slightly anxious at this point, Twitter is the terribly au courant micro blogging service in which anyone can post a message of up to 144 characters, which will instantly be read by anybody ‘following’ them. Do try to keep up.

For the dedicated, the tweet archive – for yes, in a sickeningly cutesy way, these sub messages for the terminally short of attention span* are called ‘tweets’ – is searchable.

What had this tenant done in 144 characters or less? Amanda Bonnen, for it is she, had tweeted:

Who said sleeping in a mouldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon really thinks it’s okay.

This, it seems was enough for Horizon. No matter that Ms Bonnen had all of 30 followers at this time (her acccount has since been deleted). No, Horizon felt itself aggrieved, nay positively hurt, by the very idea that there might have been mould in the apartment.  As the company said:

no mould was ever found in her (Ms Bonnen’s) unit and was one of several that experienced an overnight leak during roof repairs in late March 2009

In view of that, they should probably consider themselves lucky that British Telecommunications plc v Sun Life Assurance Society plc [1996] Ch 69 and s.11 Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 doesn’t apply in Chicago.

But, rather than ask Ms Bonnen to delete the tweet, or even contact her about it, Horizon reached for its lawyers. As CEO Jeffrey Michael charmingly put it:

We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organisation

Or perhaps a sue first, think later kind of trigger happy landlord. Consider that this was the tweet that at most 30 people saw, and that no-one else would see unless searching twitter archives for ‘Horizon’ when they meant ‘Horizon Group Management’ and being prepared to wade through the many thousand mentions of ‘horizon’ till they found that one and then have their view of the company significantly changed.

But now, by being the first to sue for a defamatory ‘tweet’ which allegedly contained injury in less than 144 characters, their name is everywhere, all across the interweb, mostly in connection with mould and all about suing their tenants. Top work chaps. Even if you get your $50,000, was it really worth it?

* The British law bloggers tweeting contingent excepted. Sometimes 144 characters worth of brevity is the soul of wit. Or follow Charon QC for a wine driven Verfremdungseffekt, where the answer to the question ‘what are you doing now?’ is as likely to be ‘invading France’ as ‘interviewing Lord Falconer’.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.


  1. Bob Grindrod

    You might want to reflect on ‘terminally ADHD’ as a term of abuse. It’s no less offensive than any other abusive language which uses a subset of humanity with an illness as the basis of its ‘wit’. What next – ‘as insensitive as a lawyer’ perhaps?
    Great article otherwise!

    • NL

      Bob, obviously, no offence was intended. And it was not a term of abuse, merely a indication of limited attention span. Further, given that to the best of my knowledge, ADHD is not terminal, clearly no serious reference to any actual sufferer of the condition was involved. But there we are.

      I’ve changed the post, because I have no desire to cause upset, but, on your comparison, I’d have to say that ‘insensitive as a lawyer’ is hardly a term of abuse. In fact, I’d say it was a fairly accurate general characterisation. Not me, of course. For a litigator, I’m positively tender and overflowing with empathy.



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