Demand Letters: The Basics

Jupiterimages / Creatas / Thinkstock

What is a demand letter?

If you are asking yourself this question, it's probably because you have a dispute with someone and you're thinking of taking legal action.

If that is your situation, a demand letter lets you formally explain to the person what you think he did wrong.

It also lets you explain what the person can do to resolve the situation and avoid being sued.

A demand letter is also sometimes called a "lawyer's letter" or, in French, a "mise en demeure".


Here are some examples of when you could send a demand letter:

  • Your neighbour's dog bit you and you want your neighbour to reimburse the cost of medications.
  • You want your plumber to repair the pump she didn't install properly under your kitchen sink.
  • You want your snow removal company to respect the contract you have with them and remove the snow that's been piling up in front of your house for several days.

The person who receives your demand letter, could do several things:

  • agree to do what you are asking in the letter
  • explain why he doesn't agree with what you're asking for and negotiate with you
  • tell you that he refuses to do what you are asking
  • do nothing and wait for you to take legal action


Do you always have to send a demand letter?

In most cases, no!

By law, you have to send a demand letter or written notice similar to a demand letter only in very specific cases. For example:

  • When a seller of a building wants to cancel the sale, the seller sometimes has to send the buyer a demand letter. If the seller doesn't send the letter, she cannot take back possession her building.
  • When you discover a hidden defect or when you want to sue a municipality for damage to property, you have to send a notice to the person or municipality in question. This notice is only to notify them of the situation that is a problem for you. If you don't send this notice or if you send it too late, you could lose your right to be compensated.

If you're not sure whether you have to send a demand letter or similar notice, it's best to send one anyway, or to consult a lawyer.


Why send a demand letter when you don't have to?

Here are some reasons:

  • A demand letter can encourage the other person to resolve the dispute to avoid being sued.
  • If you take legal action against someone, you have to pay court fees. Usually, you get them back if you win your case.

    However, if you take legal action without sending a demand letter and the person agrees in a reasonable time to do what you're asking, you won't always get your fees reimbursed. You will probably have to pay them even if, in theory, you won your case.
  • If you are trying to get money, a demand letter serves as the date interest on the amount begins to run.
  • If the person you put on notice does not pay you within the time you give in the letter, interest will start to run.
  • In certain situations, the law says that a demand letter lets you take steps to resolve the problem without having to go to court.

    For example, if the person you sent a demand letter to does nothing in the time given in the letter, you could hire a professional to do repairs at his expense. If you had a contract with that person, you could also consider the contract as being automatically cancelled.


Automatic Notice

Good news! The law says that there are some situations in which a person is automatically "put on notice". This means that you use the advantages of a demand letter without having to actually send one. 

For example, this is the case in these situations:

  • The person with whom you have a dispute clearly told you that she would not agree to your demands. 
  • A contract you entered into provides that the other person will automatically be put on notice if she does not do what she promised to do on time.
Example: A contract for a loan of money could say that if a person is late repaying the loan, she will automatically be put on notice.
  • The person with whom you have a dispute did something that she agreed not to do.
Example: While you were away on vacation, your neighbour built a four-metre wall in his yard.  You clearly agreed with him that the wall would be no higher than two metres.
  • There is an emergency and you have to act immediately to resolve the problem.

 Example: It has been raining very hard for two days and the roof of your new house is leaking.  The ceiling, walls and your furniture could be damaged if you don't react quickly.

In this case, you must first try to contact the person who sold you the house. If you're unable to reach her or she doesn't react, you can quickly have the roof repaired by a professional and claim what you paid later.

Note that a person put on notice automatically might not be aware that he has been put on notice automatically.  It can therefore be useful to send a demand letter to make sure the person knows about it. This could encourage him to react to avoid more serious problems.


Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.