Sunday, May 08, 2005


The Pen is Mightier than the Telephone

My friend M called me a couple of weeks ago about a situation with his landlord. It seems that M’s apartment was in need of repairs, which the landlord had been putting off for well over a year, despite numerous complaints. Someone had suggested withholding the rent until M’s landlord made the repairs and M wanted to know what I thought about this idea. I told him that, under some circumstances, a tenant can withhold rent, but this is a risky proposition. I asked my friend if he had ever put any of his complaints in writing, to which the response was negative. I told M that the first step, before taking any further action, was to write a letter to the landlord listing all the problems that needed repair, detailing the history of his prior communications with the landlord, and requesting that the repairs be made within a specific time frame.

While this may seem an obvious solution to some of us, particularly those of us in the legal profession, many people don’t realize how essential the letter-writing step is in almost any potential dispute. In many cases, an effectively written letter can produce exactly the result you desire, without recourse to more drastic action. Of course, situations will invariably arise where someone will ignore your letter and, assuming it makes sense from a cost-benefit analysis, you may have to pursue legal remedies. Even so, your letter provides a written record that you have attempted to resolve the problem informally and is, in many cases, a prerequisite to legal action. Obviously, none of this should be taken as legal advice, since I am not your lawyer. If you are faced with a potential legal dispute, you should consult a lawyer to make sure you know what your rights are. And it’s always a good idea to have your letter reviewed by a lawyer beforehand, so start making friends with those lawyers you always thought were so boring. They can really come in handy.

As for my friend M, he emailed me this week to tell me that work in his apartment was scheduled to start on Monday.

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