Why anonymous letters don't work

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By Teri Karush Rogers  |
July 21, 2009 - 5:22PM

When neighbors drive you crazy, the anonymous letter sounds its siren song, promising to address your suffering while avoiding an eternity of awkward elevator rides and strained mailroom waltzes.

But besides being the cowardly choice (c'mon, you’re better than that!), anonymous notes are an excellent way to sabotage your cause.  

Neighbors are likely to (a) ignore it, (b) figure out who sent it anyhow, and/or (c) become defensive, enraged and paranoid, emotional states antithetical to compromise.

Unsigned complaints to the board fare little better.  Boards tend to hew to the Yogi Berra “never answer an anonymous letter”  approach.

“We look askance at anonymous notes,” says one co-op board member, who prefers to remain anonymous. “We do read them but don’t take them as seriously as a note that is signed. It might be someone with an axe to grind rather than someone with a genuine interest in making things better.  It might be the same person making the complaint several times.”

Steven R. Wagner, a Manhattan lawyer who advises the boards of many co-ops and condos, says they view anonymous notes as more “of a tip than a complaint.  In order to enforce rules and regulations, a board has to make sure that the complaint is bona fide.”

A face-to-face discussion conducted in calm, neutral tones is always the right choice for an opening overture.  It may take more than one conversation, as your neighbor may need time to think it over.   And while it could turn ugly, it could also lead to an unexpected friendship.

If you must write a letter, signed or otherwise, keep it polite and unemotional. (A good way to do this is by pretending to write to your best friend.)  Be sure to explain not only what the problem is but how it affects you. End on a positive note and, if your letter is signed (do it!), extend an invitation to discuss the issue further to resolve it to everyone's satisfaction. 

Related links:

Solving disputes with your neighbors - examples of good letters and bad letters

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Teri Karush Rogers

Founder & Publisher

Founder and publisher Teri Karush Rogers launched Brick Underground in 2009. As a freelance journalist, she had previously covered New York City real estate for The New York Times. Teri has been featured as an expert on New York City residential real estate by The New York Times, New York Daily News, amNew York, NBC Nightly News, The Real Deal, Business Insider, the Huffington Post, and NY1 News, among others. Teri earned a BA in journalism and a law degree from New York University.

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