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What's the best way to communicate with my NYC landlord?

Who emails anymore, right? Well, you probably should if you need to communicate with your landlord.

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Some landlords might tell you that the best tenants are the ones they don't hear from, and there are different schools of thought on how much you should communicate with your landlord. Some New Yorkers who have a good deal on an apartment ascribe to the belief that keeping as low a profile as possible means their landlord will be disinclined to raise the rent. Others, who pay top dollar, feel they are paying for service and so request frequent assistance.

Still, eventually, no matter where you live or what you pay, you're going to have to get in touch with your landlord about something—a faucet's leaking, the heat isn't on, you want to renew your lease, etc. What's the best way to communicate with a landlord in NYC, are some ways more appropriate or "better" than others, and should you be thinking about what's going to hold up in court should you end up there? We asked around and got answers. 

Check your lease

New York City area real estate lawyer Todd V. Lamb says that most leases specify how tenants must give a landlord notice—usually via certified mail, return receipt requested. Your landlord or management company may also state in the lease a preferred method for other matters, so it's worth taking a look before reaching out. 

"Absent a formal legal notice, I prefer when tenants communicate with their landlords via email because it creates an easy paper trial to admit in court," he says. "If you have no choice but to communicate by phone, it is a good practice to follow up the phone call with an email confirming what was discussed." 

Tenant rights attorney James Fishman of Fishman Law concurs. "I think email works best," he says. 

Protect yourself, but don't go overboard

You don't want to be too casual or informal with your communications, but at the same time, it's important to consider tone and context. 

"Use caution," says Nicholas Schmitt of the New York Peace Institute, which works to prevent and resolve conflict through mediation in numerous areas, including landlord-tenant disputes. "If you're sending everything via certified mail even if it's not called for by the lease, a landlord might, and not without reason, wonder if you are trying to lay some kind of groundwork for a lawsuit, which could set back communication." 

Size may matter

If you live in a large building, your landlord owns several buildings, or you're dealing with a management company, there may be an online portal in place (a popular one is BuildingLink) to facilitate repair requests. "If using BuildingLink, there is usually an option to send a copy of the communication to yourself. Tenants should always select that option before hitting send, says Lamb. 

Small landlord? Get personal

If your landlord lives in your building or is running a smaller operation, Schmitt recommends meeting in person, whether that's at your place to show them, for example, the issue needing repair, or stopping by a management office.

"The main way to build and maintain affiliation with a person is to look them in the face," he says. "If you're having a problem in your apartment, invite them to come take a look and have a conversation with them. And, if you come to an agreement on anything, you can follow up on that in writing to memorialize whatever you agreed to."

To text or not to text?

Who emails anymore, right? Well, you probably should if you need to communicate with your landlord.

"Maybe it is my age but I don’t think texts are a good way to communicate," says Lamb. "If it is something you care about, take the time to draft a proper email."