Stuff I Wish I'd Known Yesterday

I realized the other day when I was talking to a landlord that I’m always telling people to write a letter. Having a problem with a noisy neighbor? Write him a letter asking him to be quiet. Having problems with a tap in your place? Write your landlord a letter, asking her to fix it. Why do I nag people about putting things in writing? Well, there are a couple of reasons, but for the most part, if you write down the concerns that you are having and suggest a way to fix things, you stand a higher chance of getting what you want done than if you’d done nothing at all. The problem that a lot of people have is that they don’t know how to write the letter in the most effective way, so I’m going to give you some pointers and then show you an example of what the letter can look like.

The kind of letter I’m writing about is generally called a ‘demand’ letter. What exactly is a demand letter? Simply put, a demand letter is a letter that you write to someone (can be a person or a business and for this post, I’m going to refer to the other side as the other ‘party’), demanding that the other party do something by certain date. Demand letters are commonly used when someone owes you money, but they can be useful in other contexts too. If you need repairs done by your landlord, you can write the landlord a demand letter. If you paid a contractor to do some work around your home, and the work wasn’t completed to your satisfaction, you can use a demand letter.

There are some things that you should keep in mind when you write a demand letter.

Good Idea Number 1
You should include certain details. You should put the name and address of the other party in the letter. You should date the letter. You should sign the letter. You should include your own contact information, so that the other party can contact you if they have questions.

Good Idea Number 2
Set out the facts that have happened up to the point of writing the letter. You should include the relevant facts in a clear and calm manner. If, for example, you are using a demand letter to collect a debt that is owed to you, the relevant facts may include the date that you loaned the money, the agreement that you had with the other party for when the money would be paid back, and, if you talked about it with the other party, what would happen if they didn’t pay you back when they were supposed to. If you talked to the other party about the debt after you loaned them the money, then you would include that information too, and any action that you or the other party has done in relation to the debt. If you have dates for when events happened, you should include them in the letter. If you have names of people that you talked to, then you should include those names.

You should not use the demand letter as a platform to vent your frustrations. Before you address the letter to the “scheming, lying jerk” who owes you money, you may want to reconsider. The demand letter could end up forming part of your case if you end up in court, so write the letter with the belief that it will end up being read by a judge. Judges don’t like it when people call other people names; judges like facts. Also, it’s the old adage of collecting more flies with honey: if you are polite and business-like, chances are the other side will respond in the same manner.

Good Idea Number 3
Set out what you think should happen. If someone owes you money, then set out how much money they owe you, and how they can pay it to you. If you are asking your landlord to deal with a noisy tenant next door, then you could suggest that the landlord speak to the tenant, or give the tenant a written warning, or a written noise complaint.

Don’t be unreasonable. If you loaned someone money, but didn’t discuss an interest rate on the loan, then don’t demand 40% interest on the debt. You might be mad at what has gone on, but it’s not up to you to punish the other party; your goal should be to put yourself back into the position that you would have been had you not loaned the money in the first place.

Good Idea Number 4
Set out when you want those actions to be taken. You should be crystal clear on when you want the other side to take action. The amount of time that you give the other side will depend on what you are asking for. Usually, if you are asking for payment of a debt, a reasonable amount of time for the other side to pay you could be between two to three weeks. You should also look at a calendar when you set these dates out, because you may not want the collection day to fall on a weekend, as most banks are not open on the weekend.

Good Idea Number 5
What are you planning on doing if the other party doesn’t take the actions that you’ve requested be taken? Are you going to take them to small claims court? Then put that in the letter. You cannot threaten to bring criminal proceedings against someone (this is called extortion and is a crime), but threatening to bring a civil action against someone is not considered to be extortion, so that’s okay. You may not be sure what you are going to do if the other person doesn’t do what you want them to, and that’s okay too. A classic line to use in those circumstances is to write that you will “begin to consider the legal remedies available.”

Good Idea Number 6
You should keep a copy of the letter, so that you have it available for your use if you end up in court. You may also want to send the letter by registered mail, so that you can prove in court that the other party received it.

Good Idea Number 7
If you have a complex situation, where you are not sure what details to include in the letter or you are not sure what steps you should be asking the other party to take, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to write the letter for you. There are many law firms who will, for a fee, write the letter and send it for you.

So let’s take an example situation and look at what a demand letter can actually look like. Let’s say that Adam loaned Bob $2,000.00 on March 1, 2011. Bob agreed that he would pay Adam back the entire amount before June 1, 2011. Bob paid Adam $250.00 on April 15, but hasn’t given Adam any money since then. Adam talked to Bob on May 28 and asked for the rest of the money. Adam didn’t hear from Bob at all, and has not received any more money. Bob started avoiding Adam’s phone calls, and Adam gave up trying to contact Bob for a while. Adam found out that Bob just bought a new car, so Adam wants Bob to pay him back the money in full. Adam decided to write Bob a demand letter.

December 1, 2011

Bob Lastname
1234-56 Street
Edmonton, AB
T1A 2B3

To Bob Lastname:

On March 1, 2011, I loaned you $2,000.00. We agreed at that time that you would pay me back the full amount on or before June 1, 2011. On April 15, 2011, you paid me $250.00, which left you owing me $1,750.00.

We spoke on May 28, 2011, and I requested that you pay me the remaining money on or before June 1, 2011, as we had originally agreed upon on March 1. I have attempted to contact you numerous times, but I have not heard from you, nor have I received any further payments.

You owe me a total of $1,750.00. Please pay the full amount that you owe me on or before 4:00 p.m. on December 20, 2011. If I do not receive full payment on or before 4:00 p.m. on December 20, 2011, I will consider my legal options, which may include bringing a claim against you in Provincial Court.

You can contact me to make payment arrangements at 780-111-1111.


Adam Lender

The example of Bob and Adam deals with a loan, but there are many situations when a demand letter will be helpful. If you are involved in a landlord and tenant dispute (for example, if repairs are not being completed in the rental property), the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has a page of “Sample Letters and Worksheets” that are really helpful.

Until next time, enjoy writing those politely worded letters!

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