Dear landlord, thinking we're evil tenants is neither true nor helpful.
September 4, 2011 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Could I request that my landlord put all communication in writing, apart from emergencies?

My landlord has falsely accused my spouse and me of some things over the seven years we have lived in our apartment (accusing us of smoking on two occasions being the most problematic). We vigorously rejected his accusations (there has never been any smoking in our apartment), and he seemed to accept our side of the story at the time. These exchanges have happened over the phone. However, a couple of weeks ago, he called me in a huff about a new issue he had with us. It came out that he didn't believe any of our versions of past issues and that he had written down something I said a couple weeks prior and dated it. This statement made me look like I was admitting negligence to something, but in my perspective was misconstrued. I was shocked, and the conversation rapidly deterioriated. (I did refrain from calling him any names.)

I'd rather not lose my composure with him again or give him the opportunity to write that I said something I didn't, so apart from emergencies, I'd rather we no longer communicate by phone, but in writing or email. Is this a good idea? How should I request this from him? I don't have his email address and feel a mailed letter might be seen as a sign of aggression. On the other hand, if I waited until he had a reason to call again and asked him to email me instead, he might then write down that it was his idea.

This may or may not matter, but he's also a lawyer.
posted by waterandrock to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Whatever else you do, start looking for a new place.
Start cleaning early, so that the battle for your deposit
is from a good position.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:11 AM on September 4, 2011

Writing something down isn't binding, and he's trying to intimidate you with somehting that has no meaning whatsoever. Without some kind of recording or your signature, all he has is a random scrawl on paper. You can have just as much effect by writing down, and dating, "Landlord has falsely accused me of saying X when I did not." Or even by writing down something entirely untrue and dating it--since that's what he did. That would mean just as much.

Keeping a record of who you spoke to and what they said can work when you're dealing with, say, a business who is screwing up your bills. That's so THEY can retrieve the records and possibly the recordings and find out what they've already said to you. Writing down what another person said, though, is not any proof that they said it.

Do you live in a single party taping state? You could start recording his calls. If it's a two-party state you might be fine just to say, at the beginning, "I am recording this call." You'd need to find out what your state does require in terms of consent from both parties.
posted by galadriel at 10:11 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Call him up and ask him for his email address. Then tell him you would prefer to communicate via email in non-emergency situations.
posted by andoatnp at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can request what you like, but realistically your landlord will contact you however he likes. The best approach is to follow up each contact with a letter sent certified mail. You know,

"Dear John, To recap the conversation we had on date and time, while I understand your concern about smoking in the building, I reiterate that neither Mr(s) Galadriel nor I has ever smoked in the apartment, no have we allowed guests to. If there is anything we can do to help you track down the source of the smoke, please let us know."

Every time. For everything. No matter how trivial. Be totally calm, do not offer explanations, just state your facts.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: feel a mailed letter might be seen as a sign of aggression

Certainly not nearly as aggressive as what he seems to be doing, based on your description. Communicating by letter is a good thing; it shows you're serious about clearing the air but isn't aggressive in itself. Just be polite. Writing things down is smart, common practice. Whatever he decides to do, you should definitely follow DarlingBri's advice: after each phone call *you* write a note summarizing your understanding of what was said in the call and being sure to note any points of differing interpretation or things you consider to be in error, then send it by certified mail. That alone may get him to start responding in kind, him being the lawyer and all.

If that doesn't work, just do this: when he calls about something stupid, interrupt with, "I'm sorry, I can't talk right now. If you could just send me a quick note I'll be sure respond right away." Do that every time. "Oh, I'm sorry, you caught me when I have someone on the other line. If this isn't an emergency, could you just send me a quick note? I'll respond right away. Thanks."
posted by mediareport at 10:37 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Making the request is probably a good idea, though don't expect it to immediately change his behaviour. Request it the next time you see him and/or the next time he calls you. Writing seems (to me) to be a bit passive-agressive if you haven't at least tried the first two steps. To make it the request absolutely clear, add that you won't be communicating with him by phone any longer. If there are emergencies, he can come to the door.

After this, don't answer his calls. Not one. Let it go to voicemail. If the message contains nothing more than a rant, delete it after writing down details. If he knows you're home and comes in person to harass you, answer the door but keep the conversation as brief as possible -- or, if the knocking on the door is far too vigorous, don't answer it. If he at any point becomes even more unhinged (eg, pounds on the door repeatedly or attempts to gain entry), call the cops. This might be a bit over the top, but it's probably what I would do.

On the other hand, if two smoking-accusations are the worst thing that's happened in seven years... that doesn't seem that bad, all things considered, and I certainly wouldn't test my luck with the relatively poor odds of winding up with a better landlord if you move out.

Finally, if you are familiar with any of your neighbors, ask them if they've had similar problems. Or, if you know that a neighbor smokes, refer the landlord to that neighbor. Or, if a neighbor has a grudge against you and/or is a crackpot who reports any little thing to the landlord, indicate this to the landlord. You haven't exactly ruled out the possibility that the landlord has been acting in good faith, but is being fed false reports by other tenants.
posted by matlock expressway at 11:05 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would strongly suggest everything be put in writing. Also, your lease may actually specify something to that effect (mine does).
posted by DoubleLune at 11:13 AM on September 4, 2011

in a certified letter:

"in light of our conversation on (date), wherein you showed me a written, dated. and incorrect, out-of-context partial transcript of a conversation we had had weeks prior, I am concerned that continued verbal miscommunication between us will create problems where none need exist. going forward, then i prefer to follow your lead; all communication between us (other than for emergencies, of course) should be done via the written word. i sincerely hope this will help us avoid more confusion in the future. all best etc."

then start looking for a new place, and cleaning up, etc.
posted by davejay at 11:26 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

also what darlingbri said, 100F
posted by davejay at 11:27 AM on September 4, 2011

er, 100%
posted by davejay at 11:27 AM on September 4, 2011

Best answer: Look for a new place. A landlord who "misconstrues" conversations, has already made false accusations, and is also a lawyer? What a nightmare scenario. There is no way this gets better just because you switch to written communication.

The only thing you care about, now, is whether he is going to use this "written down" information against you. I would just ask him flat out if he is planning to evict you. If not, he's just trying to intimidate you for some reason (which you may know but haven't mentioned). Counter by asking to terminate your lease (which you will want to get in writing!) given the fact that he has accused you of things which aren't true.

Unfortunately, your landlord being a jerk isn't a reason to break a lease in most jurisdictions, so you'll have to play that one by ear. This sounds like the kind of guy who if you move out on him will sue you for every month he fails to rent the place, because he's a lawyer and doesn't have to pay himself. I would brace yourself for sucking up and dealing with him for the duration, then don't renew.

You will also want documentation. Make sure you have rent receipts, check stubs, or whatever. Make sure that you have photographs of anything he claims is damaged. If possible, contact a tenants' rights organization in your area. WHen you move out, make sure that you and he do a joint inspection, taking photos or video, and that you get a list of anything he claims is damaged in writing. But really, even if he takes part of your deposit, you'll be much better off having gotten out of there.
posted by dhartung at 3:26 PM on September 4, 2011

Do you live in a one-party consent state? If so, record your phone calls.
posted by leonard horner at 5:01 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can request what you like, but realistically your landlord will contact you however he likes. The best approach is to follow up each contact with a letter sent certified mail.

This, and keep a photocopy of each (dated) letter along with the certified mail receipt.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:34 PM on September 5, 2011

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