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Are you dealing with a bad landlord that is not complying with your state or city's housing codes? Consider writing a demand letter to your landlord before suing them in small claims court. Learn how to write a demand letter to your landlord, what to include in your demand letter, and how to send a demand letter in the article below.
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Common Reasons to Send a Demand Letter to a Landlord
You may be able to sue a landlord in small claims court for a variety of different reasons. Small claims courts handle everything from breach of the lease to property damage. Below are some common reasons to send a demand letter to a landlord:
Your landlord refuses to return your security deposit.
Your landlord refuses to honor your request for necessary repairs so you paid for the repairs yourself.
Your landlord violated a housing code. For example, your landlord is required by city ordinance to provide heat and hot water but does not comply.
Your landlord harassed you.
Your landlord shut off all your utilities.
Why is a Demand Letter to a Landlord Important?
A well-crafted letter can be a useful tool if you have a dispute with your landlord. In general, sending a demand letter gives the landlord notice that if you are unable to resolve the dispute you intend to sue them in small claims court.
Here are some other good reasons to first send a demand letter to your landlord before taking legal action:
Depending on the state you are filing a lawsuit in, you may be required to demand payment from your landlord before filing. For example, in California, small claims courts demanding payment is a requirement. Some small claims courts want to see that you reached out to your landlord before initiating a lawsuit. By sending a demand letter you are completing this requirement.
A demand letter can help you better organize your case. If you end up filing a lawsuit against your landlord you will need to make a concise claim and prove your case to a judge. Writing a demand letter will help you think through every aspect of your case, including the important facts, your legal arguments, and the evidence you'll need to prove your claim. With a demand letter, you will be prepared for litigation even before you file a lawsuit.
A demand letter signals to your landlord that you are serious about resolving the dispute and that you are willing to take action.
Sending a written demand letter to your landlord assures you there is a record of your attempt to settle. So while demands can be made orally, we recommend making any demands in writing. There is also no restriction on text messages, but writing a letter can sometimes be very effective as it is a more formal way of making a demand to your landlord.
The most important reason to send a demand letter to your landlord is that it may lead to a settlement without incurring court costs!
Do I Need to Hire an Attorney to Write a Demand Letter to a Landlord?
Many of our clients ask us if they need an attorney to write a demand letter. Ultimately, the decision is up to you. There is no formal requirement that states you need a lawyer to write your demand letter, you can do it on your own.
Here are some considerations when deciding whether to hire a lawyer to help you write a demand letter:
Legal fees can add up quickly. Even if you just need a lawyer to help you write a demand letter to your landlord this could end up costing you more in the long run. However, some lawyers offer free consultations for landlord/ tenant matters.
If you have a complicated legal case you may need help understanding the law. For example, if you are claiming your landlord was negligent and because of their negligent conduct you injured yourself you may want to consult with an attorney. Personal injury and negligence are very nuanced legal topics and you may benefit from consulting with a lawyer that has expertise in such matters.
What to Include in Your Demand Letter to a Landlord
Unsure of what to include in your letter? Below we have included suggestions on the most important things to include in your demand letter to your landlord:
Quote sections of your lease agreement. For example, if you are sending a demand letter to your landlord because they refuse to make repairs as agreed to in the lease, you want to attach those sections of the lease to your letter and discuss them in your statement of what happened.
Explain why you are seeking payment. For example, are you demanding $500 from your landlord because you had to buy an AC unit even though your city’s ordinances state landlords need to provide this? Or are you asking for a return of all or a portion of your security deposit?
Include your contact information so your landlord can reach you in case they would like to accept your demands. Our clients often chose to communicate via email or other forms of writing. Make sure to include an email address along with any other form of communication you are comfortable with.
Include where you would like to receive payment. Consider using Venmo or Paypal if you are comfortable with those options. If not include your new mailing address so your landlord can mail a check to you.
Attach other documents that may be necessary and could be used as evidence later in case of legal action. For example, if you had to hire a repairman to make repairs because your landlord ignored your request, include the invoice or receipt you received from the repairman after the work was completed.
Include a deadline to respond to you. You may want to consider giving your landlord 14 days to respond to you and state that if they do not respond within that time, you intend to sue them.
Once you have sent your demand letter, keep it in your records. In the event, you do end up filing a small claims lawsuit you can bring it to the hearing and show it to the judge. This is especially handy if your landlord states they didn't receive the letter.
Sample Demand Letter to a Landlord
Below is a sample demand letter to a landlord. This sample demand letter involves a tenant who is asking to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses that their landlord should have covered as per the lease terms. Use this sample to help you write your own demand letter, but remember to only discuss the dispute you are having with your landlord. Make sure to be as detailed as possible about what happened between you and your landlord.
Sample Security Deposit Demand Letters
A very common dispute between landlords and tenants is over security deposits. Every state has its own security deposit law that state when a landlord must return a tenant's security deposit. If you need to write a demand letter to your landlord because they refuse to return your security deposit in full consider writing a security deposit demand letter.
How to Send a Demand Letter to a Landlord
You may send your demand letter to your landlord via email or mail. For letters that you mail, consider the following:
Tracking. Make sure to track your demand letter. With tracking, you will know if the letter reached your landlord.
Signature Required. You are not required to add a signature request when sending a demand letter to your landlord. When you send a letter with a signature request, the postal carrier must hand-deliver the letter and someone must sign the letter.
Next Steps After Sending a Demand Letter to a Landlord
If you sent a demand letter to your landlord and did not receive a response, it may be time to consider suing them in small claims court. Small claims courts handle a variety of cases involving landlords at a low cost. This is because small claims courts were intended to be affordable and user-friendly. In some small claims courts, attorneys are not even allowed to represent you! Consider filing a small claims lawsuit if you are not able to settle your dispute outside of court.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia holds a J.D. degree and is a certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts.