How To Create A Landlord Reference Letter [+ Free Template]

A landlord reference letter is an opportunity for a current landlord to inform the future landlord of any issues with a tenant during their tenancy.

Most experienced landlords will be familiar with handing out references for previous tenants.

Giving a tenant a reference is a landlord’s opportunity to inform the potential future landlord of any issues during their tenancy in your property. When giving out a landlord reference it’s important, to be honest about good and bad experiences.

We’ve previously discussed the kind of questions you can and should ask tenants in our tenant screening guide, but it’s always important to verify that information by talking to previous landlords. This means, as a landlord you are likely to be asked to provide a landlord reference at some point in your career.

More often than not this reference comes in the form of few short questions over the phone. But, sometimes a tenant might ask you to write a favorable landlord reference letter and send it to the future landlord.

In this article, we’ve put together our top tips for providing a landlord reference and included a free landlord reference template you can use next time you need to produce one quickly.

What Is a Landlord Reference Letter?

A landlord reference letter is a recommendation written by a current or former landlord for a prospective tenant. While not all landlords require this letter, it is often requested with the rental application as part of the background check.

These letters provide landlords with insights into the tenant’s reliability, confirming if they paid rent on time, followed property rules, and maintained the rental unit. A strong reference letter can also bolster an application by compensating for issues like a low credit score or making the application stand out in a competitive market.

It's an essential part of tenant selection because, as the saying goes among landlords, 'If they’ve treated one landlord poorly before, they’ll probably treat you poorly as well.'

Why Are Landlord References Important?

Landlord references are a vital part of any landlord’s tenant screening process, helping landlords avoid problematic tenants. A well-executed landlord reference will allow a landlord to:

  1. Verify Tenant History: Landlord references provide insights into a tenant’s past rental behavior. They can confirm if the tenant paid rent on time, followed property rules, and maintained the rental unit.
  2. Assess Reliability: A reference from a previous landlord helps assess the tenant's reliability and responsibility.
  3. Identify Red Flags: Landlord references can reveal potential issues, such as frequent late rent payments, property damage, or conflicts with neighbors. 
  4. Reduce Risk: Thorough screening, including checking references, reduces the risk of eviction, property damage, and financial loss. It ensures that landlords choose tenants who are more likely to respect the property and fulfill lease agreements.
  5. Compliance and Fairness: Using landlord references as part of a consistent screening process ensures fair treatment of all applicants and helps comply with housing regulations and fair housing laws.

Related: Past-Due Rent Notice for Landlords [Free Template]

6 Tips For Providing A Landlord Reference

1. Be Clear And Honest

When writing a reference letter, keep it simple and straightforward. Imagine you are the landlord receiving this letter—would you want to read a long, exaggerated reference? Probably not. 

On top of this, if you have a bad tenant you might be tempted to gloss over or hide their flaws to help move them on and out of your property as fast as possible. However, if you provide false information, the tenant may, in fact, have a case for a defamation lawsuit. Ensure your recommendation is truthful and concise. 

2. Give Examples, Avoid Emotion

Having a one-liner about the tenant being “great” or “nice” just isn’t helpful. Instead, dig into some of the specifics about why they were great, or maybe less than great. 

If the tenant lied to you, give an example, but avoid giving any emotional response. This isn’t about how the tenant made you feel it’s about the facts.

3. Did They Pay On Time?

One of the key things a landlord is looking for in a reference letter is whether or not the tenant paid the rent on time. Were they reliable? Or were you constantly chasing late payments? And, as mentioned above, provide examples and evidence as needed.  

You can mention other aspects of their life if it affected their occupancy or prevented them from paying rent. For example, if a tenant swapped jobs twice during the period of a year meaning they were late paying the rent on those months, then mention it.

4. Did They Cause Property Damage

The second most major thing landlords want to know about is whether or not tenants are going to look after their property. 

Describe the tenant’s level of cleanliness. Did they cause pest problems or leave stains on the floor? And describe any mentionable damage that went beyond fair wear and tear during their tenancy, for example, holes in walls, or torn up the carpet.

On the other hand, if they were respectful of the property and reported maintenance issues quickly mention this too.

5. Don’t Say Anything You Can’t Back Up

Assume that the tenant will read the letter that you send. If you write egregious lies or hyperbolize about their nightmarish tendencies they might take issue with that. If you’re not willing to back up everything you say in the landlord reference letter with cold hard facts, don’t write it, don’t say it.

6. Do unto others…

Past behavior is one of the key indicators of whether or not a tenant is going to be a good tenant in the future. At some point, you’re undoubtedly going to be the landlord on the other end of that phone. As such, it’s worth making it clear you’re happy to have a quick chat over the phone if they need additional information.

Leave your name and phone number on the letter if they wish to reach out. It really is a case of doing unto others and you would have done unto you.

Free Landlord Reference Letter Template

Download the free landlord reference template below and edit it to suit your needs. Then whenever a tenant requests a reference letter simply open it up and fill in the blanks.

What To Include In A Landlord Reference Letter

  1. Clarify who the tenant is and the property address.
  2. Verify the rent amount and whether or not they were reliable with their payments.
  3. Note their general cleanliness, and the amount of the deposit returned (if they’ve already moved out).
  4. Did they have any pets or smoke during their tenancy?
  5. Did they cause any disturbances during their tenancy? Eg. the neighbors complained about the noise.
  6. Did you ever begin eviction proceedings?
  7. Any notes regarding them breaching the lease.
  8. If you know, then state the reason they gave for wanting to move.
  9. Give a summary of whether, overall, they were good tenants.

Finally, sign it off with your details and offer to answer any additional questions they might have.

Can a Landlord Refuse to Provide a Letter of Recommendation?

Yes, a landlord can refuse to provide a reference letter, especially if the tenant and landlord ended things on bad terms. Even if the tenant paid rent on time, a landlord might not want to write a reference letter due to a generally poor experience.

For example, the tenant might have been difficult to deal with, frequently contacting the landlord after hours for special favors, requests, or demands in an unfriendly manner. Alternatively, the tenant might have ignored the landlord’s emails, violated the lease by subletting without permission, or kept a pet despite a no-pet policy.

Final Words: Landlord Reference Letter

Checking landlord references is a key part of a thorough tenant screening and background check

Providing a landlord reference letter is an opportunity to inform potential future landlords about any issues during their tenancy in your property. When providing a landlord reference, it's important to be honest as well as clear, concise, and professional. Long-winded complaints about a tenant are tedious to read and write and can potentially get you in trouble.

When you receive a landlord reference letter, make sure to cross-reference the details in the report with the details on the tenant’s application and in their tenant screening report. Any discrepancies, while they could be a simple mistake, could also indicate a potential lie. 

It’s a good idea to ask for landlord reference details on the application form. At the same time, you should initiate a tenant screening report on top applicants. The easiest way to get a tenant screening report is by using a tenant screening service like Landlord Studio.

Once you’ve identified the best prospects simply hit the 'Run Screening Report' button in the app, and the tenant will receive an email asking them to fill out and pay for the report.

Once they submit the report will be made available to you in the app within minutes. 

With Landlord Studio you get a full TransUnion SmartMove report which includes a credit check, criminal background check, and a rental history report. Making sure you’ve got all the details you need to make an informed decision and select the best tenant every time.

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