How To Lodge a Complaint With Your HOA, Co-op Board, or Landlord—and Get Results

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 landlord listens.

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 “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 and obligations.”

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 paper trail.

“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 important.”

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 quickly.

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.