Dear RentConfident: Why are my Landlord’s letters so rude?

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Every once in a while we get questions from our readers about the finer details of renting. Some are from tenants, others from landlords, and still others from parents, attorneys and agents. Today we thought we’d answer some of those questions in our first advice column! If you have a question you’d like us to answer in a future installment of Dear RentConfident, leave it in a comment below, or send us a message through our contact form.

Dear RentConfident: We live in a building with property managers who are very sweet to us when we run into them in person. However, every time we make a request of them in person we get a nasty letter from them afterwards telling us that we’re causing harm to their property. I’ve spoken with my neighbors and they’re in agreement with me that the management is totally rude in their letters to us. We have done nothing to violate the terms of our lease. Why are their letters to us so harsh? – The Ink is Bleeding, South Loop

Dear Ink: It can be very confusing when a landlord or manager acts one way in person but a totally different way in writing. The issue at hand here is (probably) not that they suffer from severe mood disorders. Rather, when something is put in writing from landlord to tenant it enters into the territory of legal correspondence. Our guess is that any letters sent from the managment office to you are sent in accordance with insurance or legal best practices, and reviewed by many people including attorneys before they are sent to you. Any traces of human kindness usually don’t survive through all of the revisions. Legal correspondence needs to be specific and firm.

I should add that the maintenance requests submitted by tenants to landlords are also frequently much harsher than the tenants appear to be in person. Language used by tenants such as “this apartment is uninhabitable” and “if this issue is not repaired within 7 days we will contact an attorney” can come off as pretty rude too, but it’s really just stating the facts.

If you feel that your landlord is treating you unfairly in contrast to the rest of the tenants in the building then you may have reason to suspect harassment. However, in your case it sounds like the managers are following standard company protocols to protect themselves from liability. By doing so, they ensure that you can’t claim ignorance of their policies to contest reasonable deductions from a security deposit.

Dear RentConfident: About six months ago my mother sold the house where I grew up and moved into an apartment. I visited with her over the Thanksgiving holiday and realized that her lease was entirely in English. My mother is a Spanish speaker and her English is not good. She worked with a bilingual agent to sell her home and find the apartment. Is it legal for her to have a lease in a language she does not understand? – Letra Pequeña, Uptown

Dear Letra: Unfortunately if your mother signed the lease she is bound to it even if she does not understand it. Hopefully her agent took some time to explain the lease to her before she signed it. It might be in everyone’s best interest for your mother (or you, on her behalf) to request a copy of the lease in Spanish so that she can be aware of the landlord’s specific rules. If you explain the language barriers to her landlord and explain that you’re doing it so she can be sure that she isn’t breaking any rules, the landlord should have no issue providing a translated version. Just remember, if the two versions differ in any way, your mother is bound to the English version that she signed.

Dear RentConfident: Our apartment is old and creaky but it is in mostly good condition. My 16-year old daughter attends school with my landlord’s son and they were dating over the summer. The relationship came to an end as happens far too often in high school dating. Since then the landlord’s son has been constantly making demands to come in and “make repairs” to the apartment. These are not major problems – he’s claiming that he needs to fix the doorbell or change our furnace filter – and we have not requested any service calls. I believe he’s stalking my daughter. Is there anything we can do? – Don’t Worry She’s Grounded, Humboldt Park

Dear Grounded: This is harassment. The son should be treated in the same way as any other person who is harassing your children. Speak to the kid’s parents directly about what’s going on. If this does not stop the problem, contact the police and get a restraining order against the son. Also, needless to say, you might want to consider moving.

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

3 thoughts on “Dear RentConfident: Why are my Landlord’s letters so rude?”

  1. I love advice columns, this was a fun format to read. I bet there are a lot of questions out there (a la Ask A Manager and Ask A Prof).

    1. Thanks very much Sadie! There's a fine line between offering legal advice (which I can't do) and offering a property manager's perspective, so I have to send a lot of folks over to Avvo, but I do what I can.

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