our block club is having a problem with absentee slumlords on 2 streets. we have tried various things, city not cooperative. what can we legally post about them on a website? we would like to post picture of the rundown house, tall grass, weeds, garbage, their name, address, phone number, video footage of drunken drug partiers, etc. can we do that without being sued for harrassment?
Your constitutional right of free speech trumps most contravening theories that would prohibit such speech.
You need to make sure that you do not post things that are untrue or that which you have no reason to believe are true. You also should not suggest that something is true when it is not. Expressing your opinions and posting your own pictures or videos is NOT illegal nor is it an actionable offense in any way.
All the said, you should use the legal system to its highest extent and not jump into self-help schemes which is what this is at its heart. This is not to say I disagree with your embarrassment approach, but whenever you endeavor down this road you expose yourself to retaliation and the LL may find some theory to sue and even I you ultimately get it thrown out that may cost you legal fees, etc.
It would be wise to consult a local LL/tenant layer as well to make sure you have taken all appropriate legal action.
Most of us here offer a free phone consult.
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2 lawyers agree
If you are going to create the slum landlord web site there is much you need to know as you begin the site. Good legal disclaimers, etc. are going to be needed.
I suggest you do not attempt to write your own legal policies. This is not where your training and background lie, and though you are probably as smart as an attorney, you do not have their experience.
Below is a checklist for legal issues I use for new e-commerce clients which would also be relevant to your site.
1. Business entity - Are you going to be a C corp, an LLC or a sole proprietorship?
2. Terms of Service - This is your contract with your visitors and is the most important item for any e-commerce site. A little work here brings big dividends in the future.
4. FTC guidlines - The FTC has been regulating business advertising for almost a century. All of their advertising guidlines apply to e-commerce sites.
5. Domain Name issues? Is your name available. Can you create a Trademark?
6. Trademark - Do you have a brand name free from conflict? Should you start with just common law rights? Should you register the mark, and when?
7. Copyright - If it is on the web, it already belongs to somebody. Did you buy a license for the images you are using? Do you have a DMCA notice on your web site?
8. Do you need a DMCA policy?
9. Web Site security issues?
10. Do you need and have an EIN? You can get that for free.
11. Do you have employees? - If so you need written policies regarding their authority and use of the internet.
12. Do you know the difference between a "browser wrap" and a "click wrap" and which do you need?
When I discuss this list with clients other issues arise. Finally, I always discuss with my clients their need for good accounting services. An accountant's advice as you start up can save you many dollars in tax that you might not save if you wait to speak to an accountant until your first tax return is due.
I hope this list will give you pause to think about those issues for which you might need to seek professional advice.
You may want to discuss your situation with a lawyer in more detail. Most lawyers on Avvo, including myself, offer a free phone consultation.
Andrew M. Jaffe
Attorney at Law
Practice Limited to E-Commerce and Internet Law
This post is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice specific to you. This general information is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney in your jurisdiction. The attorney client relationship is not established by this post.