A Landlord Reference Letter is a message written by a previous landlord to a future potential landlord to advocate for a tenant during the rental application process. It usually includes information about their history with the tenant, how well the tenant maintained the property and whether they consistently paid rent on time.
Why Write a Landlord Reference Letter?
It can provide important information for a potential landlord when screening tenants. While it’s not a requirement, it is a common courtesy to both assist a quality tenant, as well as help fellow landlords.
Benefits to the landlord may not seem obvious but there are some good reasons to write a landlord reference letter. Those include:
- Building Relationships. This letter can help build good relationships between other landlords and your tenants. Building good relationships can help secure tenant referrals and reference letters when you need them.
- Timely Transitions. It can help ensure the tenant will move out in a timely fashion. This is especially important if you have another tenant planning to move in on a specific date.
- Reputation. Refusing to write a reference letter for a tenant because you are too busy is a bad sign for other landlords and potential tenants. Writing a reference letter can strengthen your reputation as a quality landlord.
The benefits to the tenant, which are a little more obvious, include:
- Tenant History. This letter can be used to highlight a tenant’s reliability to a potential landlord.
- Contrast Negative Information. It can also explain why certain negative information is not a problem. For instance, a tenant’s on-time payment history can be contrasted against factors working against them such as a poor credit score.
How to Request a Landlord Reference Letter
Tenants may feel uncomfortable or unsure about how to request one from a current or former landlord. Tenants should take the following steps when requesting a landlord reference letter:
- Ask Early. Tenants should make a request before they begin searching for a new home. This will provide the landlord enough time to prepare the letter. It will also demonstrate your responsibility to a potential landlord if you can provide them a reference letter before they request one.
- Ask in Writing. While you can make your request to the landlord in person, there are some benefits to having the request in writing.
- A written request can include positive reminders of how you were as a tenant (e.g., “I have made all my rent payments on time.”)
- A written request will help remind your landlord of your request. With a landlord’s many responsibilities, they may forget your request if you only told them in person or over the phone.
- A written request can inform the landlord of any specific information you need them to include.
- Follow up and Thank the Landlord. After making your request, you should follow up in person or over the phone. During this discussion you can ask them if they have any concerns and the timeframe on when they can provide the requested letter. Also, make sure to personally thank your landlord for taking the time to write this letter for you.
You are not limited to requesting a landlord reference letter from only your last landlord. You can request one from other past landlords if you believe it will help increase your chances of securing a new rental unit.
What to Include in a Landlord Reference Letter
Depending on the tenant, this letter may contain a variety of information. When writing a landlord reference letter, think about those things that would be important to you if you were screening them as a potential tenant.
General Structure and Purpose
The letter should be straightforward and to the point. Avoid writing a long letter with unnecessary information. The following three topics should be addressed in every landlord reference letter:
- Tenant’s payment history.
- Condition of the property after the tenant moved out.
- Complaints from other tenants or neighbors.
The general structure is as follows:
- Introduction. This section should introduce yourself, the tenant, and provide basic information such as the terms of the lease.
- Body paragraphs. This section should provide specific information about the tenant’s rental history. This can include their character, responsibility, and general trustworthiness.
- Conclusion. This section should provide your recommendation and contact information for a landlord to contact you, if necessary.
Specific Items to Include in a Landlord Reference Letter
When writing a landlord reference letter you should include the following specific information:
- Landlord’s contact information (if writing to a specific Landlord).
- Address the letter generically unless writing to a specific landlord.
- Brief description of who you are.
- Your contact information.
- Tenant’s name, address, and dates of their tenancy.
- Details about the unit you rented to your tenant (e.g., number of bedrooms and bathrooms).
- Monthly rent payment.
- The tenant’s payment history including the number of late payments, if any.
- How the tenant treated the property. Discuss the condition of the property when the tenant ended their lease and whether there were damages that needed to be repaired.
- The tenant’s behavior and temperament.
- Professional relationship with the tenant.
- Whether your tenant followed all other terms of the lease.
- Invitation for the potential landlord to contact you.
- Landlord Signature.
Sample Landlord Reference Letter
To whom it may concern:
My name is Jim Smith and I am the landlord at 123 Main Street, Philadelphia, PA. John Doe was a tenant there from March 2021 to March 2022 with a monthly rent of $900.00.
The tenant was responsible, always paid their rent on time, and left the property in good condition.
I highly recommend them as a tenant. Please contact me if you have any questions.
For more examples of landlord reference letters see the attached templates at the top of this article.
What not to Include in a Landlord Reference Letter
There are certain things you cannot or should not discuss based on federal and your state’s laws. Avoid providing any of the below information:
- False or embellished information.
- Statements about the tenant’s race, ethnicity, gender, or disability. For more information on this topic you should review The Fair Housing Act.
- Claims, justified or not, the tenant made about the habitability of their unit.
After writing the letter, you may still have questions about the legality of its contents. If so, have your attorney review it before sending it to the tenant or potential landlord.
Tips for Writing a Landlord Reference Letter
Besides the specific content above, here are some additional tips:
- Be professional. A professional letter will give a potential landlord confidence that your letter is accurate and reliable. Avoid letting personal biases impact the tone and content of the letter.
- Be honest. This includes both positive and negative information. Regardless of your relationship with the tenant, your letter needs to be neutral.
- Be positive. If you do not have positive information to provide to the tenant you may want to consider declining the tenant’s request.
- Avoid typos. Grammar and typing mistakes in your letter may impact both the letter’s credibility and your credibility as a landlord.
- Avoid unnecessary information. Only include what is relevant to the potential landlord. This means including facts not opinions.
Should you Refuse to Write a Landlord Reference Letter?
A time will come when a tenant asks you for a reference letter and you will not in good conscience be able to write one. When this happens you have a few options:
- Decline. Kindly decline and explain to the tenant why you cannot provide a reference letter.
- Warn your Tenant. Explain to the tenant that the letter will be honest but it will contain some negative information.
- Contact the Landlord. If you know the potential landlord, you may want to reach out to them directly. This may be necessary to prevent the tenant from providing false information to the potential landlord.
Writing a landlord reference letter can have a long term impact on your credibility as a landlord. Be careful when accepting a tenant’s request to write one. It is bad practice to write a letter simply to get your tenant to move out of your unit and become someone else’s problem.