The Right Way to Write a Complaint Letter

in Help Me Now!, Legal Issues on by
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.

8 Responses to “The Right Way to Write a Complaint Letter”

  1. July 12, 2019 at 10:19 pm, Sheri Maguire said:

    I contacted a kidney disease where I live from over 50 women prostitutes homeless addicts filthy and it's filthy getting worse. I told the diy program here safe haven a mental facility and I know vhecistge landlord for those of us not in this program. My Dr doesn't want to help me while I live here. Nothing be k ee has been addressed Bim bgoing to my PCP for blood work because I feel terrible and I can't eat. I'm loosing much weight and I'm do fatigued. Hard to breathe all symptoms if kidney disease. I want to know if the landlord ignores this problem may I have a reason to sue safe haven for not hiring professional cleaners the patients clean bathrooms I can tell cause I e day a week a professional cleaners use to work everyday, bathroom smells clean looks clean he uses bleach etc. Questions can I sue them?


  2. July 23, 2019 at 1:37 pm, Anna said:

    I live in public housing, after 3years back and forth with housing office, my apt. is still infested with mice, I'm GAUEDIAN of 2 grandsons three of us have asthma & allergies, youngest and I it's life threaning, same with water heater leaking numerous complaints 8 months later the water has caused mold in cellar,
    All furniture expensive dressers, mattresses, ruined


  3. August 24, 2019 at 4:35 pm, Beth Davis said:

    Landlord told me to leave by end of dog has been off leash too many times…
    Thought she would have to give me a 30 day notice…is that correct?
    PLZ reply…
    [email protected]..
    THANK you


  4. September 12, 2019 at 1:00 pm, Camille Reynolds said:

    Repairs put off by landlady. New tenants come first. The she says she hasn't forgotten me. But if I call her, she asks what's wrong. I'm in an ADA apartment with a patio door which is emergency back exit but door had no handle and it's a recessed lock. The doors have leaked since Dec 2018.. It rains in Florida. But she hasn't forgotten me. Or the maintenance man quit and I have to wait. She talks down to me, asks personal questions and when I stop her, she was just curious is her answer.


  5. July 11, 2020 at 9:22 am, Kara D Blades said:

    Our whole garage floods during heavy rain. The landlord told us how to fix it because he is going to selll the property, actually put it on the market September 2020 it's now July 2020. The sewer line backed up in the showers for 2 months before he put a drain field in today July 11th. The garage We store our extra stuff that we do not have room for in the house and it all got ruined due to the flooding of the garage. he told us the garage is not a storage place so that's not his problem and he is not fixing the flooding in the garage because he is not putting any more money into the property after he fixed the drain field today because he is going to put it on the market in September. We lost a $5,000 bedroom suite due to the flooding in the garage and he said that's our problem. There is mold inside of the house from a leaking AC and he keeps telling us just to spray bleach on it but the problem is already in the drywall so on the outside it may go away but it's inside the drywall making us have a cough and allergies. I don't want to make this too long there are too many problems to list but now that he has to put money into the property that we were going to buy in January he is giving us until September to buy or leave. I don't know what our options are here I know that he does not have a permit for the drain field and he screwed all of the Windows shut in the house instead of replacing them because they would not close all the way. Isn't that a fire hazard?


  6. July 11, 2020 at 9:25 am, Kara D Blades said:

    Our landlord is putting a drain field in as I speak with no permit. He also screwed the Windows shut around every side of the house because AC was leaking out and causing high electric bill. Isn't that a fire hazard violation? Also he was giving us until January to buy the property or move out. Now he is saying September. I am not sure of our options right now but there are a lot more problems that I can list such as the garage flooding and ruining our $5,000 bedroom suite we didn't have room for and a whole bunch of other items. Any help would be greatly appreciated thank you


  7. August 12, 2020 at 10:37 pm, Cassie said:

    In disabled housing in VT. Neighbors are drug addicts, have half a dozen people in a small 1 bedroom apartment and party all night until the wee hours of the morning. They go in & out, in & out. Sometimes slamming the doors up towards 100 times a day. Some nights I don't sleep at all. I'm getting physically ill. Went to ER was told they are causing me to have Adjustment Disorder.
    Emailed the landlord well over 50 times and sent in a formal request for reasonable accommodation.
    We'll see how this all ends up. This is going to be an arduous battle.


  8. September 02, 2020 at 8:10 pm, Robin La said:

    I live in a 4 family building in NJ 3 of the 4 tenants get along great! The 4th one is a Nuisance and Dirty has left a disgusting bucket with black mold and mop outside my bedroom window that smells, unsecured gasoline can outside my window,Loud slay and banging all hours day/night took in boarders that are in common areas of the building don’t know who they are criminals sex offenders loud parties every weekend 2 of us had our vehicles vandalized in driveway where no one else on entire block have Vandalism They leave exterior door unlocked anyone could walk in and had have made many complaints over last 5 month’s to landlord have videos pictures to back up complaints he says I see what their doing but does nothing about it. at my wits end
    Thinking of breaking my lease paying top dollar for this place


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