7 Tips for Providing Tenant References [Free Template]

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

providing-tenant-references
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

phone

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

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
Get Updates by Email!

Join 100,000+ Amazing Rental Managers

  • Weekly Articles & Tips
  • Updates on Rental Laws
  • ​Useful Tools & Resources

17 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Billy

    I liked this

  • Janelle

    My tenant asked me for a reference letter and wants it emailed to their personal email. How is it customary to distribute such a letter?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Janelle,

      Generally, a new landlord will call the old landlord for a reference. However, some tenants like to have reference letters already ready-to-go when they apply for a new place. It’s not good or bad, it’s just a preference.

      If you would like to write a letter of recommendation, use the template in the article above, print it out, sign it, and send it to the tenant as a PDF in an email. If you’re going to put your signature on it, then you don’t want the tenant to change anything about it. Sending it to them as a PDF will keep them from editing it. But, if you can’t say anything nice about these tenants, then it’s just best to decline their request for a recommendation.

  • Petra Reynolds

    We are giving our tenant a 60-day notice to vacate because our son and his family are going to move into our rental property. What reason should I give in the notice? Is there wording that is important for the Fair Housing Act? She is on a month to month and has been a wonderful tenant. Our property is in San Luis Obispo, CA.
    Thank you for your advice!

  • Rada

    A tenant has been renting from us for the last 16 years. His girlfriend moved in 7 years ago without our knowledge. He now wants me to give them a reference listing that he has lived for 16 years and she for 7 years. Should I give them the reference as both tenants?

  • carto

    I just got my first request for a tenant reference from another landlord, in this case an apartment manager.
    I cannot offer any good notes on the tenant. I would not rent to them ever again.
    My concerns are these:
    What right of non-disclosure is there between me and the (potentially) new landlord? Is there any guaranty that my comments will *not* be shared with the ex-tenant?
    I offer a single fam home in the area that the tenant prefers. I feel my home is vulnerable should the ex-tenant feel my comments were the reason no one else rents to them. Emotional I know – but I worry about this.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Carto

      You bring up a good point. If you had a bad experience with tenant, you could always respond by saying “I don’t feel like I can share anything with you. I would not want the tenant to retaliate.”

      By simply saying that, you’ve answered their questions without disclosing any information about the specific tenant or their lease and payment history.

      • carto

        Thanks Lucas.
        – I offered comments to the requesting property manager. I do like your generic response and will use it or similar verbiage in the future.

  • Andrea

    I am in the process of completing background checks and have requested rental and employment history and most are requesting fax releases. There is a release for rental and employment history on the signed application but of course the application has all of the applicants personal information on it. Should I have the applicant sign separate releases or is sending the rental application appropriate?

  • Marie Abbott

    help!!! I checked the 4references given to me by tenent. They were all positive. I latter found out that all references are from people in their 80s. Since day 1 thetenent has been a nightmare. Unclean, hoarding , no rent, doing laundry at 1am. Question is , can i call these people back and tell them. Im sure they are being used and fooled. They all gave me permission to call them back f needed.

    • Lucas Hall

      What does age have to do with it? Sure, you could call them back, but just be careful not to get accused of slander.

      Were any of these references the former landlords? That’s really who you needed to talk to.

  • Meena

    Wondering here we are going on assumption that landlords are always RIGHT?? I am sorry but that’s not the case. I have been through an experience where you sharing house with a single landlord he would allure you his big nice house but what his real plan is to keep few tenant like a couple who would pay him rent, clean his house every day and if someday they miss doing it as per his standards he would shout on them. everyday he would make it difficult for them to survive. Their electricity water in the rent but on hottest day of summers at 45 degrees he wouldn’t let switch in Air Conditioner for even an hour and same in extreme winter when he is charging $50 extra per WEEK for electricity and water.

  • Meena

    Wondering here we are going on assumption that landlords are always RIGHT?? I am sorry but that’s not the case. I have been through an experience where you sharing house with a single landlord he would allure you his big nice house but what his real plan is to keep few tenant like a couple who would pay him rent, clean his house every day and if someday they miss doing it as per his standards he would shout on them. everyday he would make it difficult for them to survive. Their electricity water in the rent but on hottest day of summers at 45 degrees he wouldn’t let switch in Air Conditioner for even an hour and same in extreme winter when he is charging $50 extra per WEEK for electricity and water. can you expect him to say nice things ?

    • Connie

      Living with your landlord as in room rentals is very different laws that renting your own house or property from your landlord. 2 different sets of rules.
      Personally as a landlord I will never rent my home out again, I had tenants from hell. And here, there is no insurance for that. It’s been over 3 years and I’m still trying to fix my house. I do however rent rooms now but that hasn’t been so much fun either. I have had the odd great roommate, generally they are too fly by night … The roommate agreement is thru the Inn Keepers Act. Where as a housing agreement is thru Residential Tenancy Act.

  • Hank

    Brilliant! Thanks so much for checking me out. It’s funny although I live in Scotland (originally from Florida) I have an intleestingry high amount of readers and subscribers from CA. I guess you Californians are just especially keen on healthy food! Thanks for commenting. Hope to hear from you again soon.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available. Be short, sweet and to the point.