7 Tips for Providing Tenant References [Free Template]

Written on October 8, 2013 by , updated on August 13, 2015

Quite often, I receive requests from former tenants asking me to provide a quality reference to their future landlord.

I realize that I have no obligation to provide a reference, but I always like to help out when I can. I don’t consider this a way for me to help the previous tenant – I look at it as a way to help the future landlord. We, the landlords, are a rare breed and we have to stick together.

When given the opportunity, I will always describe my experiences with a previous tenant – good or bad.

A Phone Conversation


Most of the time, the references that I provide are performed over the phone, when the future landlord calls me out of the blue and asks about a previous tenant. It usually goes something like this:

Mr. Smith has applied to rent from me and has listed you as a former landlord, would you mind answering some questions about his tenancy?

A Written Letter


Every once in a while, I receive a request from a former tenant asking if I will write a favorable reference letter and send it to the future landlord.

My future landlord wants a reference letter from my previous landlord, can you write one for me?… and I need it in an hour… oh, and I realize that I was late a few times on rent, but it was only 7 times, and besides, it wasn’t my fault. So, I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention that. 

When this happens, I simply open up my trusty template and start filling in the blanks.

Tips for Providing Tenant References

Over the years, I’ve learned how to write an excellent landlord reference letter by following these tips:

1. Be honest.

Above all, tell the truth. If you lie about a tenant, it could come back to haunt you. Sometimes, if you have a bad tenant, you might be tempted to say anything to a future landlord in order to help your tenant leave your property. If you provide false information, the future landlord can sue you for misrepresentation.

2. Be specific, but not emotional.

There’s no reason to have one blanket description that says “they were great” or “they were nice.” That’s really not that useful to a future landlord. You should make it personalized, with a detailed description of your experience with the tenant, but remember to leave your emotions out of it.

If the tenant lied to you on a few occasions, you can say so, but don’t say how it made you feel. This isn’t the time to vent about a grudge you might have. Stick to the facts.  

3. Discuss stability.

Mention the length of time they lived in your apartment and whether or not they paid rent on time every month. If there were any issues with the rent or utility payments, the new landlord needs to know.

4. Discuss cleanliness.

Describe the tenant’s level of cleanliness. Did you have pest problems caused by the tenant? Did they trash the carpets or stain the floors?

5. Be accountable.

Assume the future tenant will read your letter or listen to your phone conversation. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the paper. Be able to support any claim that you make with proper documentation or evidence.

6. Be available.

Always let the future landlord know that they can contact you again for more information or clarification. Include your name and phone number on your reference letter. It’s not likely that they will reach out to you again, but providing your contact information shows good will.

7. Use a formal letter template.

Tip: Use the template provided below ]

If writing a letter, try to make it look professional. Remember to date it at the top. Follow that with the full name and address of the landlord. Use the formal salutation of “Dear Mr. Smith” or Dear Ms. Smith.” After your content, type your name at the bottom and allow room for your signature.

Bonus: Requesting References

If you’re a landlord requesting references from applicants, you can automate that process with Cozy. Using Cozy’s free online rental application, it will automatically email references soliciting feedback on potential tenants. The end result is a more complete picture of your applicants — the rental application, references, and a tenant credit report and eviction and background check (if you requested them), all in one place.

Free Template: Landlord Reference Letter

I use the following template when writing tenant reference letters. Hopefully, it will make your landlord life a bit easier.  

photo credit: shizhao, Vincent_AF via cc
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