The Right Way to Write a Complaint Letter

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The Right Way to Write a Complaint Letter

Cassie Damewood · Apr 18, 2019
Young woman thinks of what she wants to say as she prepares to write her landlord a complaint letter.

In an age where texts and emails are the preferred forms of communication, it’s safe to say that letter writing has become a foreign concept to many people. But in some professional situations — like when you need to complain to your landlord about problems with your apartment — you’ll find that a formal, typed letter is still the best way to get your point across. 

Here are a few tips for writing the most effective complaint letter possible:

How to Begin

Make a list of all your complaints. If possible, take pictures of trouble spots, print them out, and include them with your letter as visual documentation of problems like insect or rodent infestation, leaky pipes, cracked or damaged walls and windows, etc. After all, images of problems are much harder to discount than written descriptions of them. Noisy neighbors may also be an ongoing issue, so be sure to record each disturbance on your phone for even more convincing evidence.

Be Specific

Avoid generalizing with statements like “my apartment has bugs.” Explain where the problem is, how often you’ve noticed it (include exact dates and times, if possible), and when you first noticed it. The more specific you are, the easier and quicker it is for the landlord to correct the issue.

Cite Passages From Your Lease

Lease agreements typically contain a section that clearly states what conditions the landlord is legally required to uphold, such as a clean and safe living environment. Whenever you cite a problem to your landlord, you may want to gently reference this section. Make sure you’re not complaining about an issue that’s actually your responsibility, though, like keeping a clean environment that doesn’t attract pests like cockroaches or ants.

Read Through Local, State, and Federal Laws

In addition to the terms of your lease agreement, there may be regulations put forth by governing agencies that constitute landlord obligations. You can review these statutes online or contact individual organizations for more information and assistance in composing your complaint.

Clearly State Your Plan of Action

After you’ve clearly outlined all the issues you want corrected, it’s important that you tell the landlord what you will do if he/she doesn’t take action to rectify the situation. Options usually include you hiring a professional to make the corrections, withholding rent until the repairs are made, or filing suit in small claims court to legally force them to take the necessary actions. In most cases, landlords will promptly address complaints, but it’s a good idea to let them know you’re serious and that you understand your rights as a tenant.

Composing the Letter

Once you’ve gathered your thoughts and supporting evidence, it’s time to write the letter. The way you compose it and tone you use are extremely important here, not only for initially presenting your claim to the landlord, but also in the event that you later need to use the letter to confirm the date and details of your correspondence.

Use an Outline

An outline helps you organize your points and keep on track. You can use it as an extra tool and/or incorporate it into your letter to make the points more easily digestable for the reader.

Write in a Business Format

Include the current date at the top of the letter. Address the landlord formally, with either Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss and their last name. Begin the letter with a pleasant greeting by saying you hope they’re having a good day. Continue with the same pleasant tone, avoiding small talk, slang, offensive language, and personal comments on the landlord or property.

Get Straight to the Point

After a polite opening paragraph, you’ll want to jump right into the meat of the issue. Again, no histrionics or drama here — just the facts about the problem and the date by which you expect it to be resolved. Some lease agreements specify how much time the landlord has to rectify problems, however, so make sure your demands aren’t coming off as unreasonable. Serious issues that threaten your health or safety are usually addressed in 24 to 48 hours, but minor issues may take up to two full weeks to correct.

Be just as candid about what your options are if the problem is not corrected, but don’t be confrontational or threatening. Remember that your landlord is human and has many tenants and obligations to meet, so be as courteous to them as you would expect them to be with you.

Final Steps

Once you’re satisfied with your letter, run it through a spell and grammar-checking program to be sure there are no errors. Read it aloud to make sure it flows smoothly. Have a friend or relative read it too, if you can, as a second pair of eyes often catches errors the writer overlooks. Make a copy or two for your files, and do the same for all other documentation you plan on presenting to the landlord.

It’s not recommended to hand deliver the letter, as that method offers no proof of delivery. Instead, send the letter via certified mail so you have a receipt to prove the landlord got it. This information is extremely important if you end up in small claims court, so add that receipt to the file that has the copy of your letter.

Always remain calm and professional through the entire complaint process. A good working relationship with your landlord is invaluable and will make your life much easier in the long run. Plus, most landlords value good tenants and are willing to take responsibility for keeping them safe and satisfied.

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