As I’ve mentioned before, when you’re screening tenants, rental history and references should make up a large part of your overall decision. However, this also brings up another thing that landlords and property managers alike should consider. What happens when it’s time for you to give a reference for a prior tenant? There are things you should and should not say, but also, there are some things that you need to be very careful in how you say or face potential legal trouble.
Each state law is going to be different when it comes to giving references. Many people fail to realize that there are such laws, but there are. After all, shouldn’t the state be encouraging of honest references? Most are, but, there are ways to play it safe that in most cases will prevent liability. Still, check your state’s laws on the subject for extra protection in this. It’s also a good idea to have a property lawyer you can talk to about this, and many other issues. One thing that you should do prior to even getting to the end of the lease where you may be giving a reference? Have a disclosure clause in your lease. This can help to keep you free of liabilities should something problematic occur due to your reference. However, if you’re careful, you can avoid that, too.
One of the best ways to help yourself keep it professional, legal, and even save yourself some time is by creating a standard reference letter template. There are a few things that you can include in that that will be helpful. It will also help you to leave personal biases or opinions out of the mix and that is important. Your references need to be short, sweet, specific, and to the point without a lot of emotion. Professional behavior is key. Their personal information is absolutely not necessary, nor is your opinion of that. So, what can you do to keep your references their most professional, but still tell the truth?
It’s also a good policy not to give out information on the phone. If you do receive a phone call from a prospective landlord of a former tenant: consider instead asking to email, fax, or even snail mail a reference. This protects you from unforeseen issues in giving a fairly easy to verify proof of what was said, and what was not said. Again, just the facts. You allow the person on the other end of that letter to form their own conclusions based on that. So, if you’re crafting a template, issues with rent being paid on time or not at all, the condition of the unit once they left, and their general adherence to the terms of your lease agreement.