Tenant reference tips for property managers

Alisa Martin
Alisa Martin | 4 min. read
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Published on February 3, 2014

Property managers commonly provide references to former tenants. Previous tenants often ask for references in order to prove to their new landlords that they would make reliable tenants. These references are part of most tenant screening processes.

However, providing references to tenants is not that easy as it sounds. Giving a positive reference to a tenant is easy, if the tenant was good during his or her rental tenure. However, if the person was not a good tenant, giving a reference that speaks the truth without badmouthing the person becomes a challenging task. In all cases, a property manager must be honest while giving tenant references. This post offers some tips to help property managers provide tenant references — and avoid possible legal trouble in doing so.

Beware of possible legal consequences

As a property manager, you need to have a basic knowledge of the laws governing tenant references. Former tenants will not hesitate to begin a legal battle if they come to know that you have revealed any personal or negative information related to them to others. It is very important to be extremely careful — and honest — when preparing a tenant reference. In case you need help, seek the assistance of an experienced property lawyer. Such a lawyer can guide you on how to make a tenant reference that mentions the facts without revealing anything that may create a legal problem.You might also consider a standard landlord reference letter.

Do not get influenced by personal biases

Although it is tempting to discuss personal information when talking about a tenant, you as a property manager should avoid it. Discussing the personal information of former tenants does not serve any purpose. Instead, it shows that your property management company lacks professionalism. Mention the facts properly in the reference, and then let the other person make the decision on the basis of what you have said. Do not exaggerate the tales of property damages or late payment of rents. Mention only the facts, which are important to be mentioned.

Be specific, and not emotional

A vague description like “the person was nice” does not help a future landlord in any way. You need to make your reference personalized and to describe each tenant. However, keep your emotions out of the reference. If a tenant paid rent late or damaged the property, certainly mention it, but stick to the facts and leave out your feelings.

Discuss the tenant’s attitude during tenancy

Mention how long the tenant lived in the property. Mention whether the tenant paid the rent on time. Also mention any problems that arose related to the utility payments or the rent.

Discuss the tenant’s cleanliness

Mention the cleanliness level of the tenant. Mention if there were any incidents caused by the tenant, such as staining of floors, trashing of carpets, or any pest problems..

Decide which questions you wish to answer and which you do not

Finally, always remember that you have the right not to answer certain questions. If you feel uncomfortable when answering certain questions, you can choose to ignore them. You can choose to answer questions that would not require you to discuss any sensitive information about the tenant.

For example, the question “Would you like to rent the person again in the future?” is a very important question that should be weighed carefully. Even a brief answer to this question speaks volumes without the manager needing to go into details. This question allows managers to speak the truth without mentioning anything that they might regret later. However, the answer to this question might largely determine whether or not the tenant can lease a good rental property in the future.

Protect yourself

The best way to safeguard you from any legal trouble is to add an agreement of disclosure to lease. Such an agreement frees property managers from any liability that may arise from giving references to other property management companies.

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Alisa Martin

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