BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU AND THE PROPERTY MANAGER
The Better Business Bureau is a non-profit organization. It is composed of local businesses that voluntarily join and pay dues for membership. Its members commit to a code of ethics in dealing with the public. One of the services it offers is to assist in the resolution of issues between businesses and consumers.
The BBB Complaint
The consumer initiates the process by filing a “complaint” with the BBB. The complaint can be against any business, whether a BBB member or not. The BBB will not handle complaints involving employment practices or discrimination. The BBB indicates that these complaints are better made to and handled by the government agencies created to deal with these issues.
The BBB complaint process begins with the consumer filing a complaint, either in person or online. Anonymous complaints are not taken. Based upon the business’s zip code, the complaint is assigned to the local BBB. The complaint questionnaire asks the consumer to describe his/her complaint and the settlement sought. The BBB assigns a case number to the complaint, and within two business days the complaint is forwarded to the company. The company is asked to respond, normally within ten days. If a response is not received, the BBB issues a second request. If the BBB does not receive a response within thirty days, it closes the complaint as unresolved without a response.
A Response Isn’t Required
There is no legal requirement that any business, whether a BBB member or not, respond to a BBB complaint. BBB member businesses are expected to respond to complaints. A member business’s failure to respond may affect its continued membership in the BBB. Any response by non-member businesses is completely voluntary.
The Legal Complaint
The manager should not be confused by the BBB’s use of the term “complaint”. Managers are familiar with a legal “Complaint”. This is the legal document that is filed with a court to start a lawsuit. A legal Complaint should always be reviewed by the manager’s attorney, as it requires some response. On the other hand, a BBB complaint does not start any legal process. It does not necessarily have to be reviewed by a lawyer. It does not require a response.
Benefits of Responding
If responding, the manager should make a reasoned, professional response correcting any resident misrepresentations, indicating the efforts made to address the resident’s concerns, and citing the results obtained. In the response, the manager should refrain from any hostile attacks on the resident, inflammatory accusations or belittling language. Responding to a BBB complaint, even in instances of resident misrepresentation, demonstrates that the manager is acting professionally and in good faith. Also, at a later date in a different setting (court) the resident may try to argue that the unanswered complaint indicated the manager was unwilling to address the resident’s issues or that the complaint was accurate.
The BBB does keep track of the number of complaints filed against a business and the number of complaints resolved. Because this information is available to the public, responding to complaints may be good public relations.
Since it is the resident’s version of the facts, the BBB complaint is usually one-sided. However, it does give the manager notice that the resident considers the issues important enough that the resident has taken the time and made the effort to file the BBB complaint. It’s quite possible that the complaint is the manager’s first notice that the resident has these issues. Thus, the complaint may actually help a manager address and resolve a resident’s problems. Resolving a resident’s issues at this stage may avoid further complications. The resident’s next step may be to involve a governmental agency or issue a rent withholding letter to the manager.
Problems With Responding
While some residents’ BBB complaints may be filed in good faith, some are just another chapter in many residents’ continuing harassment of the manager. The complaint may be a complete misrepresentation of a situation which the manager has already fully and fairly addressed. It may be a request for relief that the manager is not required to give and has determined not to provide. It may be a waste of time to respond.
Although the BBB complaint and the manager’s response are not legal documents, the manager should give thought to the wording of his response. The complaint and the response are subject to being introduced as evidence should the matter eventually become the subject of litigation. The manager should not disclose any information that may later be used against him. The manager should be careful with regard to making any admissions of responsibility, liability or negligence. If in doubt about what he is disclosing, the manager should not respond.
Require a Privacy Waiver
The resident’s filing of the complaint can be considered his consent for the manager to disclose information necessary to answer the complaint. Unwarranted disclosure of the resident’s personal information unassociated with the complaint would be a privacy violation. The prudent manager should respond that privacy concerns prevent any response without a privacy waiver by the resident and enclose a waiver for the resident’s signature.
If the manager has any doubts about responding or the wording of the response, he should consult with his attorney.
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