Sunday, January 10, 2010

Complaining with authority

Over the holidays, the topic of writing letters of complaint came up a couple of times. In fact, I told a friend who had to write such a letter that we should start a business writing effective complaints.

Another friend noted that in many cases, the act of letter-writing can be cathartic, so offering a service such as the one I half-jokingly suggested may remove the therapeutic impact writing an angry letter can have. Which is a good point. However, catharsis often comes with writing a letter in anger - in other words, it's a way to let off steam. While it can be good for the spirit of the writer, the result is usually a letter that needs to be destroyed. If sent, it could do unintended harm to the writer him or herself.

So, is there a way to write a complaint so that it unleashes the anger in a witty, effective manner? Absolutely. I was faced with such a task last year during an ongoing pissing match with a neighbour. After months of hearing her pound on the floors and walls, she thoughtfully left the passive-aggressive letter you'll see above at our door. Though addressed to my husband, it was really a rant against my entire family. I've posted it here to give you an example of what not to do. And for your amusement.

When I read her diatribe and noted the many factual errors she made, Bugs Bunny's oft-used phrase, "This means war," sprung to mind. And in addition to making mistakes in her note, she gave me the ammunition needed to write the letter of all letters to my building manager.

As I put together my own letter (I'll simply include excerpts here for the sake of brevity), I kept a few points in mind.

Don't rant
I had already done my fair share of ranting with my friends after receiving the note. As fun as ranting can be, I knew that in order to get anywhere with my complaint to my building manager and see results, I had to keep my rage in check. The last thing I needed was for my landlord to see me as the aggressor and worse, a threat to other tenants. So instead of saying, "This bitch is crazy!" I simply stated, "We are being harassed continuously to the point that we feel we are unable to enjoy our space without anxiety."

Get your facts straight
Like I said, the battle with our neighbour had been going on for quite some time. I had previously written to our building manager, so I cited those letters. Also, the night she left her note at our doorstep, we happened to have friends over, including a lawyer and editor, both who were very familiar with landlord/tenant laws in our area. They suggested I look up the laws and cite them accordingly. In turn, the building manager cited the facts I included in my complaint in her own letter to our neighbour as follows: 28(b) states that tenants are to have “freedom from unreasonable disturbance”
47(1)(i) states that if a tenant has “significantly interfered with or unreasonably disturbed another occupant” that they may have his or her tenancy terminated.

I took the opportunity to also correct the incorrect statement that children aren't allowed in our building and remind our manager of our history in the building: X made several inaccurate points in her letter, the most offensive being that it is illegal for us to live here with our son. Nowhere in our lease does it state that children are not allowed in the building. In fact, it is illegal to bar someone from living in a building based on their having children unless it is a building for seniors only. When I was pregnant, we advised you of our situation. Clearly, if you had concerns with our having a child here, you would have told us.

Anticipate the rebuttal
I knew the rebuttal from my neighbour would be that the noise we made in our home was excessive. So before writing my letter, I confirmed with friends that if needed, they would write their own letters supporting my version of events. Know what the likely argument against your own will be and include points to refute it in advance.

Doing the above, I got what I wanted. The neighbour was sent a notice to cease harassing my family as she was in violation of her lease. In other words, quit it or you'll be looking for a new home. She's been sweet as pie since then. I still can't stand her, but hey, the stomping and nasty notes have stopped.


  1. I didn't realize that you'd finally driven a stake through Stampy's black heart. Bravo.

  2. Figuratively speaking, anyway. And damn, it WAS therapeutic!

  3. Ahh stampy. I should tell my tenants it's illegal to have children in their suite HA!