Effective Techniques to Improve
Demand Letter Writing
by David W. Robinson, Esq., Ruberto, Israel & Weiner, P.C.; [email protected]
Preparing demand letters is a vital part of landlord/tenant relations. The demand letter is often the “official” start of the dispute and is one of the most important pieces of evidence used during litigation. If done well, a demand letter will lay the groundwork for resolving the dispute. Done poorly, it will hurt your chances of resolution (and in any resulting litigation) and lower both you and your company’s credibility with the landlord if future disputes arise. This article will provide some tips on how to prepare a demand letter to effectively communicate your company’s position.
Cool off and prepare before writing
A good demand letter is organized, well-reasoned and persuasive. None of these goals are achieved by writing the letter in the heat of the moment. Take some time away from the dispute to gather perspective. With a clear head, begin organizing the relevant documents and facts. Before writing the letter, organize your main points and prepare an outline your position. It may be helpful to consult with your supervisor or a coworker to get a more objective viewpoint before writing the demand letter. You should also consider discussing the issue with legal counsel.
Organize the facts
Organization is the key to good drafting. It is important before you start writing to gather and confirm all the key facts and make sure that you understand the all of the issues. As you are organizing, determine what your overall message will be and then marshal all of the facts that support your message.
Also, take some time to determine the landlord’s likely response and try to address it ahead of time. The best demand letters generally answer all of the reader’s questions/arguments ahead of time. It is similarly important to figure out what documents and information will hurt your message and determine how to mitigate these issues. Do not ignore bad facts. Your credibility is the most important asset you have to resolve the dispute. Do not waste it by ignoring obvious issues with your position.
Structure the demand letter
Logistically, your demand letter should have an introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction should briefly summarize your overall message. It should only preview the issues that will be discussed. The body of the letter is where you discuss each point in detail. Organize each of your points by paragraph and use headings to delineate between each point.
The conclusion is where you make the demand and indicate what the next step will be if the landlord does not respond. Avoid making idle threats–this will only lower your credibility with the other side. Rather make a promise that you intend to follow through on. That way you have a way to act if the landlord fails to favorably respond to the demand.
Just the facts
In writing a demand letter, it is important to only rely on the facts to support your message. A strong factual foundation will make effective arguments. Avoid arguments based on emotion–they are not generally persuasive to the other side. For each fact, provide a reference to where you obtained your information (i.e. lease, tax assessors website, plot plans, etc.). Include or attach excerpts of the supporting documents if it is not too voluminous. Remember that the lease language generally controls who wins the dispute–you should stick to its provisions whenever possible.
A simple message is the
In preparing the letter, it is the best practice to simplify the message. Use terms that are common to the average reader or define the terms in the letter. Do not just start using acronyms and short hand to describe the key terms. Remember that your letter will likely be read by people who are not intimate with the ins and outs of the lease or even leases in general (i.e. supervisors, attorneys, judges, juries, etc.). Accordingly, write the letter so a person who has no experience with a retail lease can read it and comprehend the issues. If you are having trouble deciding if you are being too technical, have a third party read it for clarity.
Focus only on your message
Be sure to stick to the point in the demand letter. Collateral issues will only distract the reader from your message and potentially give the landlord the opportunity to dodge the main points at issue. Being clear, accurate and specific will drive your message home and persuade the reader. Avoid redundancy. Repeating your argument multiple times does not make it stronger. Repeating your points just insults the reader’s intelligence and detracts from your point. If you said it well the first time, that should more than suffice.
Quoting to boost the credibility of your message
When quoting lease language, be sure to quote the relevant lease provision exactly; do not paraphrase key sections. Similarly, only quote the parts that you need to make your point. Leave out any “fluff” because it waters down your point. As discussed above, however, do not omit or gloss over language that obviously hurts your position. If it cannot be dealt with in the letter, then you should revisit your intended message or whether you should pursue the dispute in the first instance.
If you are referring to or quoting something, be sure to cite the exact page, section and/or paragraph number so that the reader can easy find your support. Again, the reader of the letter may not be familiar with the lease at issue or even leases at all. In any event, making it easy for the reader to check your facts makes your message more convincing because it illustrates that you have nothing to hide.
Watch your word choice
It is not what you say; it is how you say it that matters. Above all, be professional in your messaging. Attacking the other side adds nothing to your point and will likely escalate the dispute rather than resolving it. Remember your goal in a demand letter is to resolve the problem, not to pick a fight.
Similarly, avoid over the top statements or inflammatory language. Remember, this letter will likely not just be viewed by your counterpart, it will be read by their supervisor, legal counsel, and perhaps even a judge or jury. Be sure to avoid language that will embarrass you and your company. Exclamation points rarely have a place in business correspondence; use only in the most egregious circumstances.
Provide a personal touch
Personalize the letter by directing it to a specific person. From strictly a practical standpoint, failing to address the letter to a specific person at the landlord will at best delay the landlord’s response. At worst, it gives your counterpart the opportunity to deny ever receiving the letter or to deflect you to someone else. It is hard enough to get a response from a landlord, do not inhibit your efforts by not addressing the letter appropriately.
Reread and revise the letter
Once you have drafted the letter, it is important to read and revise the letter multiple times. Check to make sure the letter is clear, concise and correct. Check all the spelling and grammar. Make sure all of the quotes and citations are accurate. Check the lease to verify that the letter is being sent in accordance with the lease requirements and the appropriate persons receive copies. If possible, set the letter down and read it again a few days later. Often great ideas arise through a fresh perspective. If possible, it is also a good practice to have another person read the letter before it is sent.
File and follow up
Your job is not finished once the letter is out the door. First, keep a dispute file with the demand letter and supporting documents and notes. That way, when the landlord calls months later, you will get up to speed in short order. Also, set reminders in your calendar to follow up. Otherwise, the dispute may drop off your radar. Lastly, be prepared to take the next step if deadlines are missed.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding demand letter writing, or lease or other disputes with landlords, please contact the writer at [email protected] This material is intended for informational purposes only. It is not meant to be construed as legal advice nor create an attorney client relationship. For a comprehensive understanding of the issues raised in this material please consult with a qualified attorney of your choice.
Ruberto, Israel & Weiner, P.C. is a 28-lawyer business law firm, applying in-depth industry knowledge tailored to the needs of each client. The firm provides services in Retail, Food and Hospitality; Banking, Lending and Finance; Corporate & Business; Technology; Trust & Estates; Intellectual Property; Mergers & Acquisitions; Commercial Real Estate; Employment; Litigation; Securities; and Alternative Dispute Resolution. For more information, visit the firm at www.riw.com.