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July 29, 2009 - Chicago Landlord Sues Ex-Tenant over Tweet Complaining about Apartment

A Chicago corporate landlord has set the Internet world abuzz by suing a former resident for a seemingly offhand remark on Twitter about her "moldy" apartment.

The libel suit by Horizon Group Management alleged that Amanda Bonnen "maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory tweet, thereby allowing the tweet to be spread throughout the world."

But Bonnen had only about 20 Twitter followers at the time of her allegedly libelous tweet. By the time the news of the legal fight spread Tuesday around the Web, however, "Horizon Realty" hit as high as No. 3 on Twitter's list of trending topics and made the front page of Digg.com in which users rate the top news of the day.

"High Five, Horizon Realty," Digg user "beersk" wrote Tuesday. "You've guaranteed that way more than 20 people will hear about your moldy apartments."

In a statement later in the day, Horizon said it found the objectionable tweet after lawyers for Bonnen last month filed a proposed class-action suit against the firm for alleged violations of the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance.

This isn't the first lawsuit filed over the micro-blogging site. In March, rocker Courtney Love was sued for defamation after she called a fashion designer a "nasty lying hosebag thief" on Twitter.

Bonnen's tweet was modest by comparison.

"Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you?" she wrote on May 12. "Horizon realty thinks it's okay."

In its suit, filed last week in Cook County Circuit Court, Horizon is seeking at least $50,000, the threshold to be heard in the court's Law Division.

In its statement, Horizon denied the allegations of mold but acknowledged a contractor caused a leak while making roof repairs last March at the apartment complex at 4242 N. Sheridan Rd. But the firm said all the grievances with tenants were resolved "amicably," except Bonnen's.

Bonnen moved out of her apartment "of her own volition" on June 30 and no mold was ever found in her unit, Horizon said.

Horizon did not return calls from the Tribune asking if Bonnen had complained about mold. Bonnen and her lawyers also could not be reached for comment.

Horizon is "inviting a PR nightmare," said Sam Bayard, assistant director of Harvard's Citizen Media Law Project. "They chose to file a lawsuit, instead drawing more attention to it," said Bayard, who indicated Horizon could have handled the matter simply as a consumer complaint. He called the suit "foolhardy."

As for the suit's chances in court, Richard Epstein, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, said the odds could be in Bonnen's favor. "If it turns out the place is moldy and she called them six times, she wins," Epstein said.

Despite the negative public relations maelstrom, Horizon said it fully intends to pursue its suit. "We look forward to presenting our side of this matter before the court and putting the unfounded accusations of a single, former tenant behind us so we can focus on continuing to serve our more than 1,500 existing tenants throughout the Chicagoland area," Horizon wrote.

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