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Backstory: When I moved into my rented house, I setup a personal bar and had a house warming party where we named the bar. As part of the celebration, it was listed on Google Maps as a business. To clarify, it was not and is not an actual business, it was set up as a joke amongst friends.

Issue: I was recently contacted by my landlord claiming that I was running a business out of the house and that it violated the HOA agreement, citing the aforementioned google listing. They have threatened to fine me for running a business out of my house, which I am not, and also have asked to prove that I'm not, which seems impossible as it would be trying to prove a negative. I showed them that there is no official listing on any official website of me running a business out of this house or with me listed as the owner of any business. They then followed up and said that the listing had to be removed from Google or else the violation would stand.

Question: Do they actually have any say or grounds for the claims that they are making?

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    Have you had any random people come looking for the bar ? – Criggie Nov 10 '20 at 4:08
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    Generally stating you have a business if you haven't (as well as vice versa) is not the best idea for a joke. Not only your landlord reads that but perhaps authorities wonder what business takes place there. Even if you explain the joke and Google is not an official business catalogue but why would you take all that trouble? – puck Nov 10 '20 at 9:22
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    They then followed up and said that the listing had to be removed from google or else the violation would stand - then it seems like the simple solution is to remove it. – Caius Jard Nov 10 '20 at 14:00
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    @CumminUp07, well they might come looking. And the in the worst case scenario they will come after you move out, and the people renting the house/the landlord may have to deal with it. – user28434 Nov 10 '20 at 14:29
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    It's easy enough to request that it be removed; simply open the location in Google Maps, click "Suggest an edit", choose "Close or remove", and select "Private place or home" as the reason. Then learn your lesson and don't create more fake locations. It's a pain trying to clean those up. Google may or may not immediately remove it depending on your Google Maps standing. If not, it'll be put under review for someone else to approve. You could potentially get it removed more quickly by having other people also mark it as a private location. – Herohtar Nov 10 '20 at 21:39
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Can a landlord dictate what I put online?

No, unless the lease you signed has a provision to that effect.

As for the underlying matter, the landlord has the burden of proof. A fictitious Google listing clearly falls short of proving that you are running a business at that address. Furthermore, any friend willing to perpetuate the joke(!) could reinstate the listing as soon as you remove it, thereby forcing the landlord back to the same laughable allegation that some listing online implies running an actual business there.

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    Thank you, that pretty much affirms my thoughts on it as well. The lease I signed doesn't have anything even close to the matter other than I have to follow the HOA agreement, I don't deal with the HOA directly and can't find a copy of the agreement, but I also wanted to make sure there was nothing in that, I couldn't see how there would be though. – CumminUp07 Nov 9 '20 at 18:57
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    @CumminUp07 why did you agree to follow the HOA agreement without knowing the provisions of the HOA agreement? I suspect very strongly that the HOA agreement does in fact place restrictions on the commercial use of the residential units. Such agreements usually do. – phoog Nov 10 '20 at 19:08
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    I don't mean to suggest that there's anything wrong with this answer. There is however certainly something wrong with signing a contract without understanding what you're agreeing to. But the main reason I wanted to comment was to explain in the face of the statement "I couldn't see how there would be [anything relevant in the HOA agreement]" that there is in fact very likely to be. – phoog Nov 10 '20 at 19:35
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    @prosfilaes "A Google listing certainly sets up a prima facie claim that he's running a business". This is extremely doubtful, and you cite no sources supporting your assertion. Anyone can easily create an advertisement or a Google listing regardless of whether the purported business exists. Conversely, running a business does not require the setting up of a Google listing. These two premises being so independent of each other, one falls short of establishing the prima facie element(s) of the other. – Iñaki Viggers Nov 11 '20 at 9:18
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    @prosfilaes This may be jurisdiction dependent, but in mine (UK), "prima facie" would imply that the fact is to be presumed unless rebutted. That will generally not be the case in civil proceedings unless there is a specific rule of law saying so for the particular scenario, or the claimant has provided evidence sufficient to prove his case on the balance of probabilities. A google listing to prove the existence of a bar at what is obviously a residential property, and which has already been justified by the defendant pre-trial, is very unlikely to hit that threshold. – JBentley Nov 11 '20 at 9:56
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The legal position

You are quite clearly not running a business and if the matter went to court you could easily prove this be e.g. getting testimony from the people at the party, your testimony etc.

In any event, your landlord can’t “fine” you. Fines are a punishment and only government can punish people. They can sue you for breach of contract for damages (which are restitution not punishment) or to seek specific performance.

The practical position

Take the listing down.

Rightly or wrongly, it's souring your relationship with your landlord and their relationship with their HOA. Is having this mildly amusing joke worth damaging these relationships, particularly if you might want to renew your lease? The landlord might feel that they are better off with a tenant who doesn't cause them grief with their HOA.

Even if your landlord understands, the HOA might not. If they sue your landlord, they will have very little choice but to join you. Yes, you will almost certainly win your day in court but you will not get reimbursed for the time and effort you had to go to. this includes taking the day off work, subpoenaing all your friends to give testimony etc. Who has time for that crap?

Further, whenever you go in front of judge or arbitrator who has the power to force a resolution of your dispute, you are rolling the dice. Sure, you may think you have great evidence and the other sides' is completely bogus but if they present theirs with skill and confidence and you screw yours up then they can walk away with a win. Real court cases depend on who the judge believes. If they believe your landlord's reasonable story about running an illegal bar and they don't believe your crazy tale of it all being a joke - you lose.

Remember: free speech can't be restricted but it does have consequences. Further, anyone who bases relationships on legal rights and responsibilities is going to have very shallow relationships.

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    Would the landlord/HOA not have burden of proof that they were actually running a business? I would think "well, Google Maps shows a business there!" would be a pretty weak claim on its own. – Herohtar Nov 10 '20 at 21:46
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    @Herohtar sure. And where does that burden get tested? In court - wasting everyone’s time for a day at least. You have to be there at 10, your docket gets called at 3. The judge listens to both sides for 3 minutes. You’re all nervous because courtrooms are (deliberately) intimidating, the other guy is smooth and has a printout from Google showing a n (illegal) bar at your address, you have some lame ass story about it being a joke. The judge believes him not you. You lose. – Dale M Nov 10 '20 at 22:32
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    That was what the second part of my comment was about -- it seems like a pretty poor judge that would take a Google Maps listing as conclusive proof that you owned/operated a business out of some location. – Herohtar Nov 10 '20 at 22:52
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    @Herohtar judges make mistakes - anytime you put a dispute in front of an independent person, you are rolling the dice. – Dale M Nov 10 '20 at 23:26
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    "...and their relationship with their HOA." is an important part of the above. Basic courtesy requires removing the listing. It's of trivial import to the OP, but a landlord needs to maintain a good HOA relationship. (Now, could the landlord have approached this in a more genial way? Sure, though they're probably acting in response to something huffy from the HOA. But there we go...) – T.J. Crowder Nov 11 '20 at 10:01
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His argument has no legal leg to stand on.
Be aware that any Joe can add anything to Google Maps, and if some other Joe confirms it, it will show up for the world (until some third Joe removes it and a fourth Joe confirms the change). There is no way to prove that you added it.

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  • Thanks for the downvote! Care to explain it? Or was it a drive-by? – Aganju Nov 11 '20 at 2:42
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    You don't back anything up, and you just write the same as the accepted answer. This answer adds nothing but noise. – pipe Nov 11 '20 at 9:58
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    @pipe , my main point was that anyone can create a Google Maps entry at your location, so its existence cannot be the basis for any claim. But I hear you. – Aganju Nov 11 '20 at 19:40

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