If you have a dispute with your landlord, it’s important to put it in writing so you have a provable record of the dispute. Even if you’ve already spoken with your landlord or super, write a complaint letter that describes the problem and what you expect your landlord to do to fix it. Provide a deadline and follow up until the situation is resolved.
EditBuilding Your Case
- Choose a specific issue to focus on. If you have several issues you want to address with your landlord, pick 1 or 2 of the most pressing issues for your letter. Problems that are simply annoying may not warrant a formal complaint letter.
- Your complaint should be specific, and within your landlord’s power to resolve. For example, problems with electrical wiring, damage to floors, stairs, doors, or windows, or the removal of pests or mold are problems worthy of a formal complaint letter.
- If your problem is with a neighbor or other resident of the property, it’s usually best to try to talk to them and attempt to work out a solution to the problem before getting your landlord involved.
- Create a chronological account of the problem. Gather any information you have regarding previous times you’ve discussed the problem with your landlord, as well as any attempts that were made to fix it.
- Be as specific as possible, including dates and approximate times. Try to account for when you first noticed the problem, and when you first notified the landlord of the problem, if nothing else.
- Document the number of times you’ve talked to your landlord or anyone else in the management office about the problem. If possible, include names of anyone you talked to.
- Take photos as evidence of the problem. If your complaint relates to something that needs to be repaired, a pest infestation, or other physical damage, photos can be presented as proof of the condition. Your landlord is responsible for maintaining the property so that it is livable.
- For example, if you are writing to complain of a roach infestation in your kitchen, you might take photos of the roaches and the places where they appear to be coming into the unit.
- If you’re writing to request repairs, take photos of the damaged property from all angles.
- If possible, include a date and time stamp on your photos.
- Make copies of any receipts or other documents. If you made any attempts to repair a problem with the property yourself, you may be entitled to get your money back from your landlord. Typically this is done by reducing the amount of rent you pay by the amount of the expense.
- The landlord/tenant law that applies to you may require your landlord to reimburse you for any expenses you incurred repairing something that was the landlord’s responsibility to repair. However, even if no law requires it, you can still request that your landlord reimburse you.
- Read through your lease thoroughly. Your lease describes in detail your responsibilities as a tenant, as well as your landlord’s duties. Your letter will be stronger if you can point to a specific duty in your lease that your landlord has failed to perform.
- Your lease may also include clauses that detail how you are supposed to notify your landlord of problems, and how long your landlord has to fix a problem after being notified. If your landlord has failed to follow this timeline, include that in your letter as well.
- Make a copy of your lease and underline or highlight the provisions you intend to cite in your letter.
- Look up the applicable landlord/tenant law if necessary. Landlord/tenant law varies widely from place to place. your landlord may have included language in your lease that actually isn’t legal where you live. Your landlord cannot legally enforce any clause in your lease that would violate local landlord/tenant law.
- For example, in some areas, your landlord is under no obligation to make a repair until they are notified of the problem in writing.
- There are nonprofit tenant associations that may be able to help you. Law schools also often have landlord/tenant clinics staffed by law students who will help you free of charge.
EditDrafting Your Letter
- Search online for templates. There are many legal assistance organizations and tenant associations that have templates available that you can use to write your complaint letter. These letters may include specific language that relates to landlord/tenant law.
- If you find a template you want to use that includes statements of law, make sure those statements accurately reflect the law in your area. If they don’t, either change them or remove them.
- Format your letter as a formal business letter. A formal business letter looks more serious and professional. Your landlord will be more likely to take your complaint seriously if you approach them formally and professionally.
- Include your full name and address at the top, as well as your phone number or email address. If you have personal letterhead, you may want to use that to make your letter look more professional.
- Introduce the problem clearly. Begin your letter by stating specifically why you are writing. Provide a brief description of the specific problem, then detail any efforts you have made prior to the letter to notify your landlord of the problem or to fix the problem yourself.
- For example, you might begin your letter by writing: “On August 1st, I discovered evidence of roaches in my unit. I contacted you on August 2nd and requested pest control services. As of September 1st, the roaches are still present and no exterminators have come to my unit. I have attached photographs of the infestation.”
- Describe how the problem is affecting you. Generally, your landlord is required to address problems with your unit or the surrounding areas that present a health or safety hazard to you or affect your quality of life. State clearly how you’ve been impacted by the problem.
- For example, you might write: “The roaches have contaminated food in the pantry and are a serious hazard to my health.”
- Explain how you want the problem resolved. State specifically what you want your landlord to do. It can also help to include a description of how you will consider the problem fully resolved. Keep in mind that your landlord may propose an alternative to whatever you propose.
- For example, if you have a roach infestation, you may want a professional exterminator to come. You may consider the problem resolved only if all evidence of roaches is eliminated from your unit.
- Give your landlord a deadline to resolve the problem. Provide a date range by which you expect your landlord to act, measured from the date the letter is received. Add the next step you will take if your landlord does not adequately resolve the problem by the deadline you’ve set.
- For example, you may have decided that if your landlord doesn’t fix the problem, you’ll fix it yourself and bill the landlord for the charges. For example, you might write: “If a professional exterminator does not visit my unit within 10 days of your receipt of this letter, I will call one myself. Any expenses I incur will be deducted from my next rent payment.”
- In some places, landlord/tenant law provides a mandatory response time if you submit a written complaint to your landlord. Other laws refer to a “reasonable time.” In most cases, a deadline of 5 to 10 business days from the date of receipt is adequate.
- Proofread and edit your letter carefully. If you want your letter to be taken seriously, your writing should be clear, concise, and error-free. It’s a good idea to set your letter aside so you can look at it with fresh eyes. You might also have a respected friend or family member look over it.
- Reading your letter aloud can help you notice mistakes or awkward language that you wouldn’t notice otherwise.
- Edit your language to remove instances of passive voice. Use simple language that is direct and to the point. For example, instead of saying “The stairs need to be fixed immediately so that the property can be considered tenable,” you might say “The stairs present a serious hazard to tenants and their guests. Please repair them immediately.”
- Attach photos or a copy of your lease if necessary. If you have any evidence to back up your claims, such as photos of damage or an area in need of repair, include copies. Make a copy of your lease and highlight any of the specific clauses you mentioned in your letter.
- If you’re attaching documents or photos, include copies – not the originals. Keep the originals for your own records. If the situation ends up in court, you will need to present these as evidence.
- Have an attorney look over your letter. If the problem is serious, you may want to get an attorney to review your letter and make sure it will protect you. This is particularly important if you are planning to withhold rent until the problem is resolved because your landlord could attempt to evict you.
- Most landlord/tenant attorneys will look over a letter like this for free, or for a relatively small fee. You can also use an attorney at a nonprofit tenants’ association or a legal clinic.
EditFollowing Up on Your Complaint
- Mail your letter using a trackable method that requires a signature. Sending an email doesn’t work in this situation, because you won’t have any way of knowing when your landlord received it. Use a delivery method such as certified mail that requires your landlord to sign a receipt demonstrating that they’ve received your letter.
- When you get a copy of the receipt, save it along with your other records of the incident, including your copy of the letter, your copy of your lease, and any evidence.
- Give your landlord the opportunity to respond to your letter. Once your landlord receives the letter, they may contact you immediately or begin taking steps to resolve the problem you complained about. It’s also possible that you may not hear from them at all – but you need to stick to what you said in your letter.
- If you gave your landlord a deadline, allow them that time. Don’t pester them or call them every day demanding to know what progress has been made. Maintain a professional attitude.
- If you see your landlord or super in the meantime, it’s okay to bring up the issue or ask what progress they’ve made – provided you can be calm about it.
- Contact your landlord within 24 hours of the deadline. If the deadline you set is approaching and you haven’t heard from your landlord at all, give them a call to remind them of the letter. Let them know that the problem has not been resolved and that you are prepared to take further action.
- Use your best judgment on timing. For example, if you know it would take more than a day to resolve the problem, you may want to contact your landlord 2 or 3 days before the deadline, rather than the day before.
- Act as you specified in your letter if the problem isn’t resolved. If your landlord doesn’t do anything to fix the problem by the deadline you provided, be ready to take the steps you outlined. Document your actions thoroughly in case your landlord retaliates.
- For example, if you stated that you would call an exterminator yourself if the landlord didn’t do so by the deadline, then you need to call an exterminator at your own expense. Once the work is done, send another letter to your landlord with a copy of the bill or receipt for your payment, and let them know that you’re deducting that amount from your next rent payment.
- Talk to an attorney who specializes in landlord/tenant law. If your landlord refuses to cooperate with you or rejects your reasonable request, you may have no choice but to take the matter to court. An attorney who specializes in landlord/tenant law can help you explore your options.
- Most landlord/tenant attorneys give a free initial consultation. Use that opportunity to talk to several attorneys so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.
- If you don’t have a lot of money for legal expenses, seek assistance from a nonprofit tenants’ association, a law school clinic, or a legal aid society near you.
EditSources and Citations
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