Trying to control customer opinions online is nearly always a losing game for a business, and there's now a long line of cases where it has backfired on companies. We uncovered a new example this month, when a reader contacted Ars Technica to show us the "Social Media Addendum" that his Florida apartment complex, called Windermere Cay, included in his lease.
The Social Media Addendum, published here, is a triple-whammy. First, it explicitly bans all "negative commentary and reviews on Yelp! [sic], Apartment Ratings, Facebook, or any other website or Internet-based publication or blog." It also says any "breach" of the Social Media Addendum will result in a $10,000 fine, to be paid within ten business days. Finally, it assigns the renters' copyrights to the owner—not just the copyright on the negative review, but "any and all written or photographic works regarding the Owner, the Unit, the property, or the apartments." Snap a few shots of friends who come over for a dinner party? The photos are owned by your landlord.
Contacted by Ars, a manager disclaimed the contract—even though it had been given to a tenant to sign just a few days before.
Before one even gets to the terms of the Social Media Addendum, renters have to get through this explanatory paragraph:
The Addendum was provided to Ars by a resident of Windermere Cay who asked that his name be withheld. In this article, he'll be referred to as Martin. He moved in to the complex in early 2014, selecting it because it's an easy commute to his engineering job at an Orlando company. Martin describes Windermere Cay as a five-building complex, with each building holding about 30 apartments.
He never had any intention of writing a review of his apartment, good or bad. Still, he told the management that he wouldn't sign the Social Media Addendum on principle.
"If I took a photo of people in my apartment, they would own it," he said in an interview with Ars. "It's just ridiculous."
So in 2014, Martin asked to have the addendum removed from his lease. "They said, we'll talk to the property managers," Martin said. He didn't hear anything else about it.
This year, once his lease was up, Martin was given another year-long lease to sign. Despite his complaints and earlier refusal to sign, he was again given a Social Media Addendum to sign. Once more, he told management he disagreed with the terms of the document and wanted it removed.
"It was still in there," he said. "I assume if people don't question it, they would sign it."
Asked about the Social Media Addendum by Ars, Windermere Cay's property manager sent this response via e-mail: "This addendum was put in place by a previous general partner for the community following a series of false reviews. The current general partner and property management do not support the continued use of this addendum and have voided it for all residents."
While the addendum may be "voided," residents clearly haven't gotten the memo. Martin had been given a copy of the addendum just days earlier, and it's surrounded in a sheaf of other typical renter paperwork, such as mold and lead disclosures. The manager at Windermere Cay wouldn't answer follow-up questions or even give a name when asked—the name on the Windermere Cay e-mail read simply "Property Manager."