How to write a reference for a tenant

When a tenant moves out, quite often they will be looking to move into another rented property. As part of the tenant referencing checks that will almost certainly be carried out, there will be a request for a landlord reference from you. This will be an important document for both the tenant and the new landlord, but what should (and shouldn’t) be included in a tenant reference? In this article we give some generic advice on how to write a reference for a tenant:

The basics

In all cases before writing a tenant reference, make sure you have permission from the tenant (preferably in writing) before proceeding. Make sure the letter is dated, include the tenant’s name(s), the address of the property and the term of the tenancy and if appropriate state that should they wish to rent from you again then you would be happy to do so. To make the document authentic make sure it is signed and has your contact information clearly displayed.

Keep it neutral and short

When it comes to references, quite often less is more. Don’t feel the need to go into chapter and verse, keep the reference short, neutral and to the point. Just stick to the basics.

Keep it factual

When writing a reference put yourself in the other landlord’s shoes, what would they need to know. Include factual comment on things like whether the tenant paid on time, if there were difficulties, was an agreement arranged and met? Were they accommodating when it came to facilitating inspections and necessary compliance visits like gas safety certification renewals? Did they have pets and were they well behaved? Did you receive complaints from neighbours whilst they occupied your property? What about the condition of the property, how was it left?

Of course, not all tenants are model renters. It is not true that you can’t give a bad reference for a tenant, but if you are going to highlight that they were often late on rent payments or caused significant damage to the property, you need to be able to prove it. You might feel it is appropriate to highlight any issues with a tenant to the next landlord so they can make an informed decision, but it needs to be factual. If you can’t prove it, don’t write it. If you have been unfortunate with your tenant, consider politely declining to provide a reference. 

Don’t unnecessarily refuse a reference

You might not have anything bad to say about your ex-tenant, but simply because you are busy you might not want to spend the time giving a reference. Remember that this can be seen badly by a prospective landlord and, in some ways, no reference is as bad as a negative reference. If your tenant has been a good one, then you owe it to them to help them secure their next home.

Tenant references are important for both the tenant and the new prospective landlord and as such need to be honest and factual. Think of it as a small admin task that could help the decision-making process and appreciate the potential consequences if you choose not to provide one.