The Better Business Bureau Complaint

by Michael Geo. F. Davis, Esq.

 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 landlord should not be confused by the BBB's use of the term "complaint." Landlords 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 landlord'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 landlord should make a reasoned, professional response correcting any tenant misrepresentations, indicating the efforts made to address the tenant's concerns, and citing the results obtained. In the response, the landlord should refrain from any hostile attacks on the tenant, inflammatory accusations or belittling language.


Responding to a BBB complaint, even in instances of tenant misrepresentation, demonstrates that the landlord is acting professionally and in good faith. Also, at a later date in a different setting (court) the tenant may try to argue that the unanswered complaint indicated the landlord was unwilling to address the tenant'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.

Because it is the tenant's version of the facts, the BBB complaint is usually one-sided. However, it does give the landlord notice that the tenant considers the issues important enough that the tenant has taken the time and made the effort to file the BBB complaint.

It's quite possible that the complaint is the landlord's first notice that the tenant has these issues. Thus, the complaint may actually help a landlord address and resolve a tenant's problems. Resolving a tenant's issues at this stage may avoid further complications. The tenant's next step may be to involve a governmental agency or issue a rent withholding letter to the landlord.

Problems with responding

While some tenants' BBB complaints may be filed in good faith, some are just another chapter in many tenants' continuing harassment of the landlord.

The complaint may be a complete misrepresentation of a situation which the landlord has already fully and fairly addressed. It may be a request for relief that the landlord 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 landlord's response are not legal documents, the landlord 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 landlord should not disclose any information that may later be used against him. The landlord should be careful with regard to making any admissions of responsibility, liability or negligence. If in doubt about what he is disclosing, the landlord should not respond.

Require a privacy waiver

The tenant's filing of the complaint can be considered his consent for the landlord to disclose information necessary to answer the complaint.

Unwarranted disclosure of the tenant's personal information unassociated with the complaint would be a privacy violation. The prudent landlord should respond that privacy concerns prevent any response without a privacy waiver by the tenant and enclose a waiver for the tenant's signature.

If the landlord has any doubts about responding or the wording of the response, he should consult with his attorney.

Reprinted by Permission of the Law Offices of Heist, Weisse, Davis & Wolk P.A. Visit  or call 1 800 253 8428