If you’ve just received a cease and desist letter, the stress can feel overwhelming and isolating. But the truth is, cease and desist letters are among the most common first step taken in many legal battles.
Even so, you can’t ignore the problem either. If you’ve just received a cease and desist letter, keep calm and carry on. Arm yourself with this information on the most common questions on this legal matter, so that you win the battle at the end of the day.
Free Cease and Desist Letter
What is a Cease and Desist Letter?
Put simply, a cease and desist letter is a formal request in writing asking you to stop doing something. That “something” can encompass a wide range of activity.
It is also called a “demand letter.”
The intention behind the letter is always the same. The individual and/or company is asking you to stop doing something, or they will take legal action against you.
Depending on what they want you to stop doing, that could be anything from a criminal charge to a civil lawsuit.
It’s impossible to know from a letter alone how serious someone is about taking you to court. But the letter itself is the author’s way of saying they are serious enough to consider escalating a situation to a legal approach.
In most cases, when you receive a cease and desist request, it’s not the first time you’ve heard from them or had an experience with the individual or company in question. It may be shocking to get one, but you’re probably not surprised.
You have your own reasons for doing what you are doing that they want you to stop. You may even be well within your rights to do so.
That’s why you shouldn’t freak out when you get a cease and desist letter. You do have rights.
Why Are Cease and Desist Letters Sent?
Cease and desist letters are commonly used for plagiarism issues, copyright infringement, or harassment. There are also many other reasons a letter may be sent.
They can also be sent if you said or wrote something about someone that was either not true or damaging to their reputation. That’s a tricky one in a world where the First Amendment resides.
For example, you can say you “believe” someone is a shady jerk. You can’t take to Twitter to tell the world you know for a fact they are a drug dealer in a home you are renting to them unless you have concrete proof.
And even then, you could be taking a risk.
Harassment is another common reason cease and desist letters are sent. If landlords are receiving them it could happen if a renter thinks you ask for their rent too often for example.
First-time landlords can avoid problems like this when you have the tools to find the right tenants to begin with.
Breach of contract and a violation of a non-compete contract are other common reasons cease and desist letters are sent.
These things you want to keep in mind when you are thinking about your response to a cease and desist.
Even if it’s true that Joe Brown is, in fact, a drug dealer, best not to discuss it publicly when you are reacting with rage to a demand letter asking you to stop saying that on Twitter.
Do Demand Letters Have Legal Pull?
This is likely one of your top three questions when you get one. That’s natural. You want to know how much trouble you could get in if you don’t do what they demand.
The answer to this question is, yes and no, but mostly no. Most cease and desist matters don’t end up in court.
However, they could. Or you could wind up in a conversation with law enforcement about the matter. Harassment carries a criminal charge in many states.
So you need to consider the cease and desist like a warning bell of sorts. It is also a warning bell on the record.
The chances of this matter ending up in court are slim, that’s just how the system operates. You will either comply with the demand or enter a settling process on the issue.
Or you may end up in court. If you don’t do anything after the demand letter, you then increase the chance that a judge or court, or a police officer, will refer to it in conversation with you one day.
“So you received this letter on such and such a date, but did not comply, what was the reason for that?”
This is how those letters can and do have legal weight, down the road. It’s a demand on the record, which is also a piece of evidence in any legal matter that should crop up in this situation.
You do need to take it seriously with a response of some sort. This then will become your own piece of evidence should this matter escalate.
At the same time, if the letter itself isn’t even legitimate, it won’t have any legal pull whatsoever. And yes, that does happen. Before you respond, look into that.
How do I Confirm a Legitimate Demand?
People that are litigious in nature, or even just threatening in nature, will go to great lengths to have someone stop talking about them. This is especially true if their own behavior is, in fact, criminal after all.
Someone that is selling drugs out of your home they are renting clearly doesn’t want you to talk about that publicly. Or at all.
Landlords can avoid these demands by asking these 4 critical questions for potential new tenants before they sign the dotted line.
But if this step isn’t covered before the demand arrives, make sure it’s legit before you do anything about it.
Sometimes people will issue what they call a formal demand when it isn’t at all.
A little investigative work and some phone calls that won’t take long is a great first step when you get a demand letter.
Does the letter contain legalese? Is it on stationary? Call the number on the letter itself. This is not a response to the letter. Ask to speak to the author and just confirm the letter was sent.
Lawyers get these phone calls all the time. At least, real lawyers do. If they are representing someone against you they will have no problem confirming its veracity.
At the same time, they may try and wiggle a response against you. Once you have your answer whether it is confirmed one way or another, simply thank them for their time and be on your way to create your strategy.
Then begin documenting everything, and collecting your documentation to argue your case. You don’t know yet whether you’ll be arguing it formally, in a courtroom, or informally, through correspondence exchange.
What Happens Next?
One of four things will happen after you have received the letter.
- You will agree to the demands and stop doing what they’ve asked.
- you will completely ignore them and hope they go away.
- You can respond with a refusal, an answer, or even ask them for proof of their claims or for more information.
- You can go to court directly and make a filing yourself asking for a summary judgment based on the facts at hand.
Those are the legal things that will or could happen next. If you feel this can be resolved in a few conversations, you may not want to undergo the expense of an attorney.
At the same time, you can sue for costs at the end of the day if you feel the claim is in vain, and mention this in your response.
There are many places online to get a free legal consultation that can help you decide what is the best course of action from here on out.
If the letter came from an attorney, it’s best to get one to help you with the response. But if it didn’t, then trying to talk it out with written responses is a great next step for you.
Be careful what you say about this while this is all being hashed out.
If you go to Twitter and search for cease and desist letters, you can see how ugly it may get if you take to Twitter to vent about your bad tenant who owes you money and wants to sue you of all things.
And after that search, you will see it can get very ugly. Any lawyer that represents someone involved in a cease and desist dispute does a mental facepalm when they find out their client has been discussing this situation on Twitter or any other social media site.
This is true even if you are in the right. It may just be a civil matter, and it may be your First Amendment right to blast the world about it, but anything can be used against you.
If you’ve caught enough attention to get a demand letter, even if it’s written with brown crayon on the back of a diner napkin, take it seriously enough to keep mum about the situation until it blows over. Words on a diner napkin can be considered a record of events.
Just use your common sense. Take control of the situation.
Take Control of Formal Demands
At the end of the day, a cease and desist letter is just a formal demand. It’s not to be taken lightly, but it is a demand wherein one party is looking to regain control and power in a situation.
You don’t want to give it to them by losing your common sense and responding, or not responding, in a way that could one day be used against you in a more formal setting.
Take control of demanding demands before they happen. And when they do happen, take your power back and handle it properly with airtight legal agreements that will ensure you win in court.