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What are the basics about making a Reference Letter for a tenant?

While it might seem that a Reference Letter is among the least likely ways a landlord could get into trouble, the more you say, the more you put yourself at risk. Landlords should regularly review the Fair Housing Act to get well-acquainted with its legal requirements, which applies even when a renter is no longer a tenant. 

Race, color, country of origin, familial status, sex (including sexual orientation), or disability are not suitable for a letter of recommendation. Commenting on any of these subjects can expose the landlord to discrimination suits. 

Landlords should also tread carefully when making any negative statement about a tenant. Anything that could be construed to harm an applicant’s chances of renting must be supported with factual evidence. Photographs of damage left by the tenant and reprimand letters warning a tenant about behavior are examples of evidence. Speculation, dramatization, and exaggeration can land a landlord in a defamation suit.

What can I write in a letter of recommendation for a tenant?

It may be a good idea to first review your options with a real estate attorney or have a lawyer review your letter. A lawyer may help you stick strictly to the facts, like when the tenant moved in, moved out, and whether they paid rent on time. 

Basic facts limit the risk of including information that violates a tenant’s rights, or might harm a tenant’s chances of being accepted by a new landlord. It is important to be truthful, but there is a fine line in terms of how much a landlord should say about former tenants.

When to decline a request?

Many landlords are apprehensive about writing Reference Letters for a number of reasons. Some landlords indicate whether a reference will be provided in their Lease Agreement, or what that reference may be limited to.

There is no legal requirement that a landlord write one, so a polite refusal is always an option. One reason landlords may decline is due to past problems, like failure to pay rent, damaging property, or other serious lease violations. Politely refusing a tenant’s request may be a better solution than writing a letter that may make it more difficult for them to move.

What can I write in a tenant Reference Letter?

Your letter may include the tenant's full name, dates of residency, and whether they paid the rent on time. Kind and truthful letters avoid blame and focus on factual information. Negative aspects, particularly unfounded comments, are not helpful. If you suspect that a tenant was violating the law, but lack evidence, do not include it in a reference. On the other hand, if you  have documentation about excessive noise warnings, you could include that in a letter. Finally, a prospective landlord may want your contact information to discuss your recommendation.

In instances where you are concerned about including negative information, advise the tenant that your reference may not be a positive one. Landlords who choose to write a letter knowing that negative information will be included should let the tenant know that the letter will be truthful and honest and will not gloss over negative occurrences. In these scenarios, it is common to allow the tenant to withdraw their request.

If you have more questions about writing a Reference Letter for a tenant, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice. If you need tax help, Rocket Lawyer can now match you with a tax pro for affordable and convenient tax filing services. Don't do your taxes™ – Let us do them for you.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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