How To Handle Tenant Referral Requests

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If you manage to stay in the landlording business long enough, eventually you will get calls from other landlords seeking references on your current and former tenants.

These landlords are doing the same thing that you hopefully did, checking on a prospective tenant’s rental history before letting them have the keys.

These calls usually elicit one of three reactions. The first is “Damn, another tenant is moving.” The second is “We will have to look that one up.” The final reaction is “Payback time!”

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Response #1

The first reaction comes from the fact that the tenant has not yet notified us that they are moving. The call from the other landlord is the first hint that we will soon have another vacancy.

Related: Fail-Proof Your Tenant Screening With Prior Landlord Checks

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry at the tenant, as they are just trying to get everything lined up properly before notifying us. Instead, I’m just venting a bit because of the extra work that will be involved with re-renting the property.

Response #2

The second reaction is the one you want, especially if you are a former tenant of ours. If we do not remember a particular tenant, that usually means they paid their rent on time and returned the property in good condition.

Their stay in our property was hassle free. It is the bad tenants that stick in your mind, the ones that skipped out on their rent, left their apartment filthy or in need of many, many repairs.

That’s why the third reaction is payback time.

Response #3

The request for a referral on a formerly bad tenant is my chance to gum up their lives a bit and to demonstrate that what goes around, comes around. It feels so good to simply say “No, we would not rent to them again.”

Usually, after hearing the above, the other landlord wants to know why we would not rent to them again. We try to keep it simple here and you should too.

After all, your reference will potentially be used to deny someone housing, so the less said the better. Simply stating that your former tenant failed to pay their rent or that they caused X amount of damage will usually do the trick. But I know some landlords that will not even go that far.

Related: The New Landlord Checklist

When you get a referral request, there is no need to exaggerate or go into detail. Just be truthful and make a note of the call in your files. We are a rather litigious society after all and you never know. Being short and sweet no matter what type of reference you are providing will likely keep you on solid ground. Just explain that you either would rent to them again or that you would not.

How do you handle reference requests?

Have any good payback stories to share?

Be sure to leave your comments below!

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.


  1. Joann Miller on

    It is great to be able to payback a particularly bad tenant–ironically for us the bad tenants are the ones who want a reference ! Recently we had a reference request for a woman who left broken double pane windows ($400 each!), walls so badly streaked from incessantly burning incense that we had to not only wash the walls but use three coats of kilz primer before we could even paint, and the house had to have carpets removed due to the horrible smell of incense . they also did other damage, too numerous to mention. & way more than her damage deposit. Anyway, I was elated to be able to say,” No, we would not rent to her again”–I didn’t go into any detail, but that was enough so that she was declined. We found this out because she left us a message telling us she was declined and blamed the damage on her ex-husband. It was gratifying to know that I had some small amount of payback.& she lost out on a rental due to her damages to our rental. Also– You always have to be careful about litigation and what you say to someone about a former tenant– we document all damage on video (time dated on the day we take possession after they move) and keep your records–you never know who will sue you & everyone thinks landlords have very deep pockets–I find just saying” no we
    would not rent to them again ” is enough & any landlord knows to read between the lines and not rent to them either. Also–bad tenants sometimes have their friends call to see what you will say- we ask for a signature release from the former tenant sent to us before we say one

  2. I hate that too, when I get the call and I had no idea the tenant wanted to leave.

    Once a tenant is out, I am all for giving the honest answer. I am tempted, when a good tenant wants to leave, to give a bad answer, so that they stay, but I would never do that.

    I have given a good reference before, to someone I wanted out. But generally i just tell it like it is. I have given bad references to tenants that were still in my unit, and after they got rejected for the new place, they straightened up a bit in regards to payment promptness.

  3. I generally respond by fax. The inquiring landlord sends me a fax with their questionnaire and the signed permission from the former tenant – very important. Then I fill out the questionnaire – or write a letter, fax it out and and save it in the former tenant’s file. That way, nobody can come back at me and say that I said “A”, when I only said “B” – because I said “B” in writing, and it’s on file.

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