One of the more challenging aspects of being a landlord is getting asked to provide a reference. In our litigious society, you are probably concerned that you’ll handle it wrongly one way or another, and that one of the parties will seek legal remedies against you.
That’s not an unheard-of situation, and it is a legitimate fear, but at the same time, other landlords need to have accurate references, just like they need proof of income and criminal background checks. Here’s how you can give a tenant reference while still protecting yourself from retaliation.
Stick to the Facts
Many landlords have heard rumors that they can’t give tenants a bad reference. This is not true, and if there are definite, verifiable facts that pertain to a particular tenant, you have a responsibility to let other prospective landlords know.
Information you might want to share includes if a tenant was a slow payer, or skipped payments altogether. If they did documented damage to a rental property, you might share that information too, or if they were arrested for criminal activity while they were residing on your property, that is definitely something you would need to share.
Likewise, if they were quiet tenants who never caused any trouble, documented or otherwise, those are facts that their new landlord could use to finalize his (or her) decision.
Avoid Opinions and Emotion
We’ve all had that one tenant who was annoying, rude, or otherwise unpleasant to deal with, however, just because you didn’t get along with them, that doesn’t mean they’re bad tenants. If you can’t prove it, and your comments are based on opinions, emotion, or personal issues, they have no place in your tenant reference.
Remember that if you can prove that your statements are true, that’s not slanderous. If you simply don’t like someone and give them a bad reference for that reason, however, you may well find yourself in court.
Keep It Short, Sweet, and Neutral
Even if you don’t like a tenant, and they haven’t earned a glowing reference from you, they are entitled to a fair tenant reference. So, if they are relatively easy to rent to, pay their rent on time and have been reasonably responsible and easy to work with, just say that. You don’t have to provide a long, complicated reference. Just state the facts, answer the questions you think you’re qualified to answer, and leave it at that.
Understand That No Reference Could Be a Reference Too
If you decide not to give a tenant reference because you’re afraid of the fallout, your refusal may influence your tenants’ new prospective landlord negatively, and that might still get you in trouble.
Don’t Lie to Get Rid of Them
Finally, there are instances where landlords lie about truly terrible tenants, simply to get rid of them. Don’t do it. If you do lie about your tenant and mislead their new landlord, and they do suffer a loss, not only do you lose landlord credibility but they may well decide to come after you for damages.
Terrible tenants tend to leave large swathes of destruction in their wake, and there’s almost certainly going to be proof that you lied about the tenant reference in that trial.