It’s every prospective landlord’s worst nightmare. There’s a tenant you really liked. They impressed you at the viewing of the apartment or property. They work in the most stable job and they just seem to be the right fit. Then they get a negative tenant reference, and you have to start considering renting to the biker guy who listed his employment as “freelance bouncer.”
Or do you?
While you usually want to take every negative reference seriously, there are a few times you might want to take them with a grain of salt, so before you scratch the perfect tenant off the list, ask yourself if any of these apply.
Is the Landlord a Private Person?
Generally, private landlords are more likely to let irrelevant or petty issues cloud their experience with a tenant, while property managers and leasing agents will give you the facts.
Private landlords, particularly those that don’t have a large property portfolio, are more likely to be emotionally invested in their properties, and they may be more likely to give negative tenant references. Don’t write them off, but ask for details, and if they’re opinions rather than facts related to payments, damage or genuine delinquent behavior, treat them with caution.
Why Did the Tenant Leave Their Property?
Once again, this is particularly relevant to private landlords, but sometimes, when a great tenant leaves a property, landlords can become resentful. Maybe they moved because of work or school, or maybe they left because of something the landlord did or didn’t do. Make sure you include a “reasons for leaving” section in your rental history questionnaire, to help identify these types of issues.
How Long Were They There?
If a tenant is really terrible, chances are, they will have been asked to leave their previous rental properties very soon after moving in. If a tenant has a long history in a property, spanning a few years, then there’s a good chance that any negative reference they get should be investigated more. Good tenants don’t suddenly go bad, and if they were great tenants for three or five years, and only got a negative reference after they left, chances are there’s more to the story.
Is There a Personal Relationship?
Another big red flag when it comes to negative tenant references is if the tenant and the landlord had or have a relationship outside of that scope. A good example would be if they are family, or if they had a romantic relationship at some point. Personal relationships can absolutely sour, and if they do, that might spill over into the references they provide.
When in Doubt, Ask
If you’ve been a landlord for a while, chances are you have a sense about tenants, and which ones are good or bad. If you do get a negative reference for a tenant you were sure was perfect, ask some questions.
Dig a little deeper with the former landlord, to find out why they’re giving the negative reference, and pay attention to any indications that it’s personal rather than professional. Give tenants the opportunity to share their side of the story. Get all the facts, and when in doubt, go with your gut. References aren’t always as black and white as they seem, and if everything else seems perfect, it’s okay to give a tenant the benefit of the doubt… with an iron clad rental agreement.