Nasir and Matt kick things off by discussing the Airbnb squatter who refuses to leave the condo he rented. They then answer the question, "Can my website be sued for publishing public records?"
Update: apparently the Airbnb squatter may haveraised some $40,000 on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter for a video game that never materialized, leaving scores of angry donors in their wake.
Full Podcast Transcript
NASIR: Welcome to Legally Sound Smart Business.
This is Nasir Pasha.
MATT: And this is Matt Staub.
NASIR: And welcome to the business podcast where we cover business in the news and answer some of your business legal questions that you, the listener, can submit to email@example.com and, if it’s a really short question, as Matt pointed out last week, you can send to your Twitter account @askbizlaw.
MATT: I think the question we have for this episode is definitely short enough. It wasn’t sent through Twitter but it would work so we might just write it in Twitter just so it’s in there but, yeah, it’s always good. It’s hard to write any sentence in under 140 characters but it’s doable.
NASIR: That’s why I don’t even do it. I just keep writing and it gets cut off.
MATT: It’s a challenge. Sometimes, when I’m trying to write a tweet, it gets pretty difficult. You have to abbreviate things, cut words out.
NASIR: It’s a whole mess – that whole concept.
MATT: All right. Well, we have a pretty interesting story here for this episode and we’ve talked about Airbnb and we’ve talked about it a few times and we talked about it pretty recently, too. We’re not going to talk about – well, we might actually end up talking about their awful logo but we’re going to talk about what happened here in California.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Airbnb, it’s basically a way to rent out space in the spot that you live. It’s kind of like a hotel in that sense but not like a hotel in terms of regulation or that’s arguable. Anyway, this person rented out their condo. She rented out her condo in California and I guess she did it for 30 days. The guy rented it out, 30 days. She’s like, “All right, it’s come to an end.” He basically is saying, “No, I’m not going to leave. At this point, it’s been 30 days. I’m entitled to certain rights in California and I’m just going to sit here until you evict me.”
MATT: Pretty awful situation for her. She’s just trying to make some money on the side. Yeah, California. Unfortunately, that’s just kind of the legal procedure and she is going to have to go through some sort of eviction process if she wants to get him out of her condo.
NASIR: Yeah, this is a total nightmare or horror story. I really think that this owner had no idea that this would even be a possibility. But what’s more important is that the person that moved in seemed to have every idea that this was going to happen because who would think that, like, okay, they’re staying for a month and you overstay and you know your legal rights that your power is going to get cut off. You’re like, “No, you can’t; if you do, that’s a violation and you have to actually go through the eviction process.” I mean, that’s just terrible.
MATT: I call these people backseat lawyers – like there’s backseat drivers. A lot of times, it’s people that think they knows these laws and they’re actually wrong or misinformed. In this case, the guy had done his researched and he knew he could get away with this for I think there’s up to even three months this could drag out. He’s basically going to be staying there. It’s a pretty unfortunate situation for her. Like I said, she has to go through the court process. She has to evict him from her place that she owns just because of the length of the stay that he had there.
NASIR: Yeah, and that’s what I’m wondering about – Airbnb’s side. They graciously gave the money back that whatever money that Airbnb collected from the owner, she was able to get some of it back at least – if not all. It looks they’re going to reimburse her for the reservation at $450 a week. But I’m just wondering, when you go to Airbnb, you can fill out your begin date and end date. There should be some kind of warning or disclosure to the owner that, “Hey, look, this is California. If you’re renting out for more than 30 days, then that might be an issue.” But, let me ask you, did he just overextend the 30 days or was it reserved for 30 days, do you know?
MATT: It says – at least in the article that I’m looking at now – it says he paid for a 30-day stay.
MATT: I’m guessing the agreement was 30 days. At that point, he paid for 30 days and then, actually, later on, the article says, “When his 44-day reservation came to an end…” so maybe it was even longer. Anyways, it was at least 30 days.
NASIR: In fact, it looks like it started at 30 days but then he extended it. But here’s the thing, I don’t know if Airbnb has an obligation to inform these guys but that’s kind of the thing with these new areas of law. I mean, Airbnb, we have to touch on this issue but Airbnb has been in legal trouble or issues, specifically in New York, because basically the hotel industry is saying that these guys are basically running a makeshift hotel. Therefore, all the regulations that apply to hotels need to be on there which, in a lot of ways, prohibits Airbnb in operating in New York. I believe that’s still going on. I don’t know the final conclusion of that, I haven’t paid attention. But the point is that Airbnb and other companies in the sharing economy – Lyft and Uber like we’ve talked about – are coming across these new, unique issues. The only problem is that the law is not keeping up with this kind of sharing economy and that’s why this 30-day law that’s designed to protect tenants are there which makes sense. But the problem is, even when you have a house and you do a standard lease, you have these tenants like this – you have these professional tenants is what I like to call them – that know the system very well, take advantage of every single thing, trash your house, fights every deposit. If you don’t know your stuff, you can easily be taken advantage of.
MATT: I’ve never rented a place I’ve owned but the key was that is you’ve got to do a search on everyone that you’re going to rent out to – see if they’ve had any issues in the past with stuff like this. If they have, I wouldn’t even mess with it. I don’t care if they offer to pay you double. It’s going to be more of a hassle than anything.
NASIR: Yeah, it’s true. I mean, I think it’s a very risky business, Airbnb. I’m sure, 90 percent of the time, it’s fine, right? Most people are reasonable.
MATT: Probably even higher than that I would guess.
NASIR: Yeah, you’re probably right. In this case, this guy is some kind of game developer and he argued that, if you turn off the electricity, then I won’t be able to work from home anymore and it’s just a terrible situation. I hope this works out.
MATT: It’ll work out eventually. She’ll be able to evict him but it’s just going to take some time.
NASIR: Yeah, she’ll be able to evict him. She’s be able to just adjustment for damages but, at the end, will she be able to collect those damages? Probably not. Will she get reimbursed for the attorney’s fees that she’s had to pay? Probably not. In either case, she’s lost. Well, she did get that money back from Airbnb so I guess she’s almost made whole.
MATT: Yeah. Oh well.
NASIR: Let’s post this logo on our show notes. It’s terrible. I actually didn’t see it until now. I’ve heard people talking about it because they may say it resembles something else so I was even avoiding looking at it. But, now that I’m looking at it, it’s just horrible.
MATT: Well, there was even, I don’t know if it was an actual contest but there was something when they first unveiled the logo a few weeks ago, they had something where people were just, you know, actually, I think Airbnb might have done it. It was like, “Where would you put the logo?” and they had all these different spots. But then, it just spiraled out of control the wrong way because it’s such an awful logo. I don’t know how you walk away and say, “Oh, this is great.” We can link it up there but it’s pretty bad. But maybe they did it on purpose? I don’t know. Sometimes, they do that.
NASIR: That’s true – to get the attention.
MATT: Any publicity is good publicity.
NASIR: Let’s get to the question of the day.
MATT: Question of the day.
“Can my website be sued for publishing public records?”
Short and sweet, I guess.
NASIR: Nice tweet of a question. Well, I think the question for me is what exactly is considered public records? Because, first of all, if it’s records owned by the government, federal, and state, pretty much the things that I would be concerned about is copyright law if you just take it and publish it elsewhere. But, in actuality, anything that’s prepared by the federal government is not protected by copyright law. Also, in state governments, most cases, I believe that’s the case. I know that’s the case in California. There was a specific court case for that. I assume also that that might apply to many other states as well. Even city records, things like that, those kind of public records. You don’t necessarily have a right to privacy if you get published there.
MATT: Right. The way this question was worded, “Can my website be sued for publishing public records?” Yeah, sure.
NASIR: That’s a good point.
MATT: You can do everything in your power to protect yourself but you can’t prevent your website from being sued. If someone wants to sue you, they will. I know we’ve said that a bunch on this podcast but can you be sued? Always. Will you win or lose? That’s a different story.
NASIR: Yeah, good point.
MATT: I think you’re right. I think the delivery of the public records is going to be a big thing with this. I mean, it’s a situation where the person or the website because these do exist. Well, you want to get a deed or something, I don’t know, something that’s a public record. You know, you could pay online and then they will send you a copy of whatever it is you’re looking. If in that situation, if you had that and you have some agreement that they agree to that maybe protects you from any sort of loss or recovering a lawsuit then, yeah, you might be well off. There probably are websites out there just posting stuff. I don’t know. What’s weird is if you go to something like Zillow, if you’re looking up houses and other things, I think they have information that they have just pulled from – I would assume – public records. Like, if it’s a recent sale, they’ll have the sale price, the date, stuff like that. Obviously, they got that from a public record.
NASIR: But what you can’t do is, okay, Zillow is a great example, I’m glad you brought that up because, okay, Zillow publishes something from a public record but then, if you take that information that’s from Zillow and then publish it somewhere else, Zillow could have copyright protection of that work even though it doesn’t have copyright protection but because it’s considered a collective work – something that they’ve gathered all this information and put in one piece. Think of like a Yellow Pages. You copy that and put it somewhere else, that may not be kosher and that could expose you to liability. But this question may be also asking if they get sued for some kind of privacy violation. Again, it kind of depends upon what exactly you’re publishing. If public records are such that are actual public records – meaning that they are records that are held by the government that are available the public by request, even if it’s something that is not readily available online or something that you have to go into the recorder’s office, for example, to get – then that is a true public record that is not private and, in general, should not expose you to liability.
MATT: Yeah, I was going to hinge on that, too. What are they considering a public record?
NASIR: Yeah. But can your website get sued? Like Matt said, everybody can be sued – everybody.
MATT: Yeah, this podcast is going to get sued probably for giving that advice.
NASIR: Our listeners are going to get sued for listening to this.
MATT: Class action, yeah.
NASIR: All right, well, that’s our episode. Thank you for joining us.
MATT: Yeah, keep it sound and keep it smart.