You’ve moved into a new apartment, your stuff is unpacked and you’re finally settled in- and that’s when you notice it. It might be the neighbor’s insufferably loud music, a broken security gate, a clear fire hazard or water that smells like sewage running down the only set of stairs to get to and from your apartment. Get ready to file a complaint with your landlord or management company, because little will get fixed if you don’t. But first, you’ll need to take some steps to make sure you come out on top. Keep these five tips in mind to ensure that your complaint will not only be read, but that some action will be taken.
1. Make sure your rent has been paid in full and on time:
When you file a complaint, you are essentially asking that your landlord take responsibility for his or her property. Make sure that you are a responsible tenant before filing the complaint. You don’t want a discussion on your unpaid rent to detract from your legitimate problem with your apartment. Make sure that you have fulfilled all of your obligations to the landlord so that he has no choice but to focus on your problem. If the complaint will result in a site visit to your apartment, make sure the place is in decent shape before the landlord or management company comes.
2. Check your lease for relevant terms and conditions:
Make sure that you understand the terms of your lease and that what you are asking the landlord to do is actually his responsibility. Asking him for improvements and changes he doesn’t have to provide is an exercise in futility. However, if your complaint deals with a safety issue, you have a right to complain, even if the specific situation is not spelled out in your lease.
3. Keep a paper trail of all requests to the landlord:
Keep a record of all your complaints to the landlord and any replies you get in return. If you make a complaint over the phone, be sure to back it up with a paper letter. If your landlord hasn’t responded to a request, send it by certified mail, which gives you a confirmation that the letter has been received. Most landlords don’t communicate by email, but if yours does, an email trail is a great electronic record of the efforts you made to contact the landlord. Still, your emails should be backed up with paper letters if your landlord is unresponsive. Keep track of when you sent each request, to whom you sent it and what your complaint was about. If you eventually have to go above your landlord to get an issue resolved, you will need all evidence of your efforts to get this problem solved.
4. Give the landlord adequate time to respond:
Of course, these problems aren’t solved overnight. Give your landlord adequate time to respond, unless there is an urgent, safety-related issue. But even in this case, it may be a day or two before your landlord checks the office voice mail or the better part of a week before he receives a letter sent by regular mail. Giving the landlord or management company time to respond also helps build your reputation as a reasonable tenant. When you do get a response, be firm but polite. It may seem hard to believe at times, but landlords are people too. Like anyone else, they’ll be more helpful if you treat them respectfully.
5. If you don’t get a response, don’t give up:
If you’ve been persistent, polite and given adequate time for your landlord to take action and he hasn’t, you’ll have to go above his head. There are a number of resources at your disposal. The first place to turn is the tenant’s association in your area; find one from the Renter’s Resource page on this blog:. They can better acquaint you with what your rights are in your city and state and can give you an idea of what your next steps might be. You may also consider filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or local housing authority. Before you do so, let your landlord know the steps you are going to take. Sometimes just the threat of taking your problem to an outside agency will be enough to prompt the landlord to address the issue.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. You’ll give the (correct) impression you’ll back down if your landlord simply ignores you. Instead, be persistent but reasonable, polite but firm. When your complaint is finally resolved, don’t keep the good news to yourself. Let your neighbors know how you got the landlord to fix your problem so that they can follow the same tactics you did.