Article Courtesy of TheRealtor
By Kathleen Willcox
Published March 5, 2023
As every parent knows, the chances of your children getting
their way has to do with their delivery and the content of their ask. Little
Billy wants to play outside with his friends for an extra 30 minutes? He’d
better ask nicely, say “please,” and give you a good reason why.
Similarly, adults who live in communities operated by homeowners associations,
co-op boards, or landlords must take a comparable tack when lodging a complaint.
Favors, general appeals, and demands for mediation between you and a third party
are much more likely to be successful if you approach the higher-ups in a
reasonable and respectful manner, armed with evidence. If, on the other hand,
you use a harsh tone or lack the proof to back your claim—no matter how
reasonable the request is—you won’t get very far.
Here’s how to raise your voice in an effective way so your HOA, co-op board, or
Review the rules to understand rights and obligations
The first step to ensuring your complaint is heard and addressed is to figure
out if you have the right to make it in the first place.
“Lodging a complaint with your HOA, co-op board, or landlord can be a
frustrating and daunting task,” says Mike Qiu, owner of the Seattle-based
home-flipping company GoodAsSoldHomeBuyers.com. “There are certain measures you
can take to increase the likelihood of getting results. Review the governing
documents of your HOA, co-op board, or lease agreement to understand your rights
Once you’re sure you have a case, follow the rules laid out in the documents or
lease agreement on whom to contact.
Put it in writing and follow up
Now that you know whom to contact, do it in writing to make sure you have a
“It is very important to document the complaint,” says Peter Gray, a licensed
community association manager and the president of Pyramid Real Estate Group in
Stamford, CT. “This adds accountability, ensures nothing gets lost in
communication, and it makes it so much easier for the property manager. Most
issues involve multiple parties, and clear communication is critically
If you don’t get a response, follow up in writing.
Document the evidence in pictures
You will also want to document whatever evidence you can. Photos are preferable
to video for several reasons.
“I especially love pictures that have notes, diagrams, arrows pointing to the
issue,” Gray explains. “I learned this the hard way. I sent a picture to a
vendor asking him to remove poison ivy. It never occurred to me that he might
not know which plant this was, but poison ivy doesn’t occur in his country. He
sprayed—and killed—an expensive shrub, which I ended up paying for. Since then,
I always circle in red the problem area.”
Gray cautions against using video because they’re “enormous files that rarely
accomplish more than a picture.” Plus, they’re tough to forward in an email and
share with other team members, making it harder to take care of the problem
Of course, some issues—like a neighbor’s dog doing its business on your lawn and
the neighbor failing to pick up after the dog—are best illustrated through
video, so hold on to any evidence you have.
Try contacting the Better Business Bureau
If you’re not getting the traction you were hoping for, and you followed all of
the steps above, try recruiting help from established online services.
“Online complaint services such as Angi, ConsumerAffairs, Yelp, or the Better
Business Bureau can be effective in resolving complaints that aren’t getting
traction with your HOA, co-op board, or landlord,” says Seth Williams, a real
estate broker with Reference Real Estate in Boston.
Most complaints that go through the BBB and other similar services are resolved,
partly because businesses don’t want low ratings online.
After follow-ups and ample time, get legal help
As a last resort, consider taking legal action by consulting a real estate
attorney or a lawyer who specializes in tenant’s rights. But keep this in mind:
If you don’t win your case, you might be saddled with legal fees.
“In some cases, legal action may be necessary in order to get results,” says Jon
Sanborn, co-founder of San Diego real estate investment firm SD House Guys. “If
you feel that this is the case, consult with a lawyer to discuss your options.
This should be done as a last resort and only after all other attempts to reach
a resolution have failed.”
Good luck! And remember what your mother told you: You’ll catch more bees with
honey than with vinegar.