Real Estate Firms Slipping 'Non-Disparagement' Clauses Into Rental Agreements To Stifle Online Criticism
from the makes-you-wonder-what-they're-afraid-of dept
Rob Hyndman points us to travel guide guru Arthur Frommer speaking out about a ridiculous trend from some real estate firms that do vacation rentals: slipping a non-disparagement clause into contracts that effectively forbid you from writing a bad review about them online. Frommer’s discussion is built off of an article Christopher Elliott wrote for the Washington Post, highlighting the trend:
But don’t go looking for the Dorows’ opinion on the Web. Within a few days of posting it, they received a letter from their vacation rental agency.
“It has come to our attention that you have written an unauthorized review regarding your stay at a home managed by Progressive Management Concepts,” it said. “If this review is published by VRBO.com, you will be in violation of the confidentiality clause of the rental contract you agreed to when you made your reservation.”
When the Dorows refused to remove the review from VRBO.com, the site through which they’d found the rental, Progressive Management promptly charged $500 to their credit card.
If this kind of thing sounds familiar, you may be remembering how some doctors and dentists have done similar things (though using an even more nefarious method of demanding assignment of the copyright on any such review).
Frommer, reasonably, finds this behavior deplorable, and notes that this is only likely to expand to lots of other things that get reviewed online, such as hotel stays. As he notes, since properties like this already have your credit card on file, it’s a real risk that they can then just try to “charge” you for writing a bad review. Frommer also disputes the arguments of those in favor of such clauses by noting their argument is basically that they don’t like free speech:
Now the various people who defend these clauses, base their arguments on all sorts of horrid, potential and hypothetical threats. They claim there are a lot of people who, upon checking out, threaten the rental property with a negative review unless they are given a retroactive discount on the rental. They claim, in effect, that vacation renters are blackmailing them.
In my view, simply to state that argument is to refute it. You could justify a great many denials of our First Amendment rights of free speech with scary hypotheticals like that.
Of course, the best response to something like this is to recognize that if you put such a clause into a contract, it means that you’re hiding something, and aren’t confident enough in the quality of your property that you can handle criticism. It should be an automatic disqualifier for a renter. Unfortunately, though, as the article notes, sometimes you don’t even get to see the terms until after you agree. While I’d argue that makes such terms unenforceable, it does make things more complicated. At the very least, though, it should allow people to post a review that merely notes the fact that such a clause is in the contract, and how that suggests no confidence in the quality of the property…