This article was posted on Tuesday, Sep 01, 2015

When your current or former tenants are looking for a new apartment, your contact information may be submitted to their future landlord as a reference.

Similar to how you request landlord references and complete a background check on your applicants, it’s a chance for you to help out a fellow landlord and give them an honest account of your experience renting to your former resident. 

Whether the reference is requested in the form of a letter or phone call, here are a few tips to create your own template so future landlord references can be processed quickly and easily. 

Be Specific

Details, facts and descriptions are the most helpful information you can give to a future landlord.  A phone call reference check allows landlords to ask specific questions, but a letter is much more open-ended.  Saying “they were a good tenant” isn’t very helpful – stick to the facts such as whether or not the tenant paid rent on time, were respectful or kept the unit in good condition.  Keep your own opinions and feelings out of the reference; let the facts speak for the tenant.

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Emphasize Responsibility

The biggest risk you take on when accepting a tenant is the chance that he or she won’t pay the rent on time, follow the stipulations of the lease, or care for your unit. 

Tell the future landlord:


  • How long the tenant lived in your building
  • Whether or not payments were made on time,
  • The resident’s level of cleanliness 

If there were any incidents of repeated late payments or trashed apartments, make sure you communicate it.


Be Honest

Always be honest in your reference.  You might be tempted to say good things about a bad tenant so they’ll move out, but lying and providing false information can get you in legal trouble for misrepresentation.  Once again, stick to the facts, provide examples to back your claim, and be accountable for everything you write or say.


Be Available

Provide your contact information and let the landlord know you’re available in case of any further questions.   Even if you already answered their questions and they don’t reach out, it’s professional and shows good will.

Jennifer Chan is a marketing specialist at Zillow. 


Screen ALL Applicants Equally

By RHA’s Tenant Screening Team

Q:  I have several applicants applying for my rental.  Do I have to screen everyone the same or can I screen only for credit on some and require criminal background checks on others?

A:  All applicants should be screened the same regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or your “gut feeling”. 

In order to comply with Fair Housing laws, if you check one individual’s criminal background, you need to screen every individual that way.  If you require verification of employment on a certain individual, then you need to make sure you verify that information for ALL of the applicants who submit an application.



Now, of course, the answer to this question is not completely black and white.  There is always an exception to the rule. 

Co-Signers:  In this case, one exception might be if you were screening an applicant and a co-signer or guarantor. The applicant should be screened through the same process that you put all of your applicants through, but you may only need to verify financial information for the co-signer/guarantor; checking their credit and employment/income status since they will be upholding financial obligations, not residing in the rental unit.

Married or Domestic Partnerships:  Another exception would be if you have two individuals who are married or in a domestic partnership and only one individual is employed or receives income.  In this case, you may opt to check both of their credit and background information, but it would only be necessary to verify employment on the individual who is going to be financially responsible.


Criteria List

It is recommended that before you begin accepting applications, you look at your qualifying criteria to help you decide what information is pertinent when screening your applicants.  Obtaining a credit report, criminal and eviction search or rental and income verifications can help you to make the most informed decision as to whether or not an applicant qualifies. 


Reprinted with permission of the Rental Housing Association UPDATE.