Ms. Demeanor's Vertical Etiquette

Dear Ms. Demeanor: My friend wants a co-op reference letter, but is a lousy neighbor. Should I write it anyway?

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Question:

One of my neighbors asked me to write a co-op board reference letter. We're friends, but I think they're totally irresponsible and a terrible neighbor. Should I write it anyway? Signed, Skeptical Shareholder

Answer:

Dear Skeptical,

My first instinct is to tell you to write a glowing report about them so they become someone else's problem. But, of course, that would not be the ethical thing to do. This is tricky. If you tell them you won't write the letter, you will probably lose a friend. You could stall or tell them you are not comfortable writing letters like this and hope they take the hint. You are probably not going to change their ways even if you do tell them the truth.  So, you have to decide if this is a good enough friend to lie for—or to—and act accordingly.

I must tell you, however, reference letters are a very small part of the overall package and hold little weight, if any at all. Usually people don't ask for a reference from someone they think might give them a poor one. And, a person's financial history is definitely going to trump even the most flattering letter. If you absolutely cannot get out of this, write a really vanilla letter (lovely people who you have known for years and have an attractive dog) and leave out the parts about their wild parties and drug use.

Ms. Demeanor


Dianne Ackerman is the new voice of reason behind Ms. Demeanor. She has lived in her Upper East Side co-op for the past 20 years and is the vice president of her co-op board. She is filled with opinions that she gladly shares with all who ask—and some who do not. Have something that needs sorting out? Drop her an email.