Happy young woman reading reference letter for an apartment on a piece of paper.

Tips & Guides / Leases

How to Write a Reference Letter for an Apartment

By Bri Hand | Jan 24, 2022

You’ve done everything right to find the apartment of your dreams: researched neighborhoods, scouted buildings, watched endless virtual tours, and you’ve finally settled on the perfect one that checks all the boxes.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean you’ll secure the lease. You may experience competition, especially with sought-after, check-all-the-boxes rental properties. To that end, having a co-worker or real estate professional submit a reference letter on your behalf may help you secure your dream rental. 

Whether you need a reference letter or are writing one on behalf of a loved one, this guide will explore all there is to know about references for apartment living, including:

  • What is a rental reference letter?
  • How to write an effective reference letter
  • Sample reference letters
  • Who to choose as a rental reference as a tenant

Let’s get started!

What is a rental reference letter?

An apartment rental reference letter is a common expectation in apartment application processes. Essentially, references are people who can vouch for a specific part of the tenant’s personality or behavior. 

In some cases, a property manager might merely request a list of their names and contact information from the potential renter. But many landlords will also request a rental reference letter that attests to the renter’s character. Reference letters should include that the renter is reliable, responsible, and financially stable.

Generally, there are three types of reference letters:

  • Previous landlord reference letters: Most commonly requested, these letters are written from a previous (or current) landlord to the new, potential landlord. They typically speak to the applicant’s rental history, as well as their cleanliness, demeanor, and reliability throughout their tenancy. These letters can also include character assessments and how timely the renter has paid their rent.
  • Employer reference letters: These types of reference letters are also very common and are usually given as an assurance of the renter’s past and future employment. They show property managers that the renter is financially stable and able to pay future rent payments.
  • Personal reference letters: Meant to highlight positive aspects of the renter’s personality, a personal reference for a rental is usually regarded by landlords as the least effective since they often come from family or close friends. A personal reference can also be referred to as a character reference letter.

For the writer: How to write an effective rental reference letter 

An effective rental reference letter is more than a checklist ticking off the renter’s best attributes. While it doesn’t have to be a sonnet—and, in fact, an overly flowery letter might hurt a tenant’s chances—an effective letter does need to quickly persuade the landlord that the renter applying is the best tenant to rent the property. 

No matter who writes it, all rental reference letters should be:

  • Timely 
  • Neat
  • Professional
  • Honest and factual
  • Concise
  • Grammatically correct

While everyone loves a good joke, a recommendation letter for a rental is not the forum to be witty, silly, or sarcastic. Keep the language simple, clean, and to the point to make the best possible impression on the landlord.

What to include in a reference letter

While different types of reference letters are common in the real estate industry and utilize a wide range of language, there are certain elements that every recommendation letter should contain. These include:

  • Sender’s name and current contact information
  • Nature of the reference’s relationship to the potential renter
  • Length of relationship to the renter
  • The reference’s overall (and relationship-specific) assessment of the renter
  • The reference’s signature and the current date

What not to include in a reference letter

As important as it is that the recommendation letter contains the elements listed above, it is equally important that certain characteristics of the renter are always excluded from the document. Indeed, many reference letters may inadvertently violate the Fair Housing Act.

Reference letters should never refer to any of the following protected characteristics of the renter:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Nationality
  • Disability
  • Familial status
  • Medical condition

Reference letter examples and templates

As a reference, the tenant relies on you to help them secure their dream rental. As such, you should take the task seriously and consider the following examples and templates to help provide the best recommendation possible.

Don’t forget to consider the method of sharing the document after it’s have been drafted. Some landlords will request that they be emailed directly (as is becoming common), while others will request that they be printed and included in an application packet. 

If you choose to email the document, make sure the formatting is professional and up to par before sending it. If printed, be sure to use high-quality paper and ink. In either case, keep a copy for yourself to refer to later or share with the renter. 

1. Previous landlord reference letter for a tenant

Here is a sample letter of referral from one landlord to another landlord.

[Current Date]

Dear [landlord],

I, [reference’s name], am writing as a reference on behalf of [renter name]. They rented my apartment at 123 Main Street for $1,500/month from August 1, 2018, to July 31, 2021. During their tenancy, their rent check was never late, and they kept the apartment in good, clean condition. 

I have never had a complaint against them from other tenants in the building, nor have they ever complained against them throughout their tenancy. I consider [tenant] to be a model tenant, and I would happily rent to them again. Please contact me if you would like to discuss this applicant further.

Sincerely,

[Reference name]

[Address]

[Phone number]

[Email address]

2. Current employer reference letter for a tenant

Here is a template for a professional reference letter from an employer to a landlord.

[Current date]

Dear [landlord],

I, [reference’s name] am [renter’s name]’s direct supervisor at [company name] from April 15, 2015, until present day. [Renter] is an exemplary employee, always arriving on time and exceeding expectations on their projects. 

They are trustworthy, and they consistently meet deadlines. Their relationships with their co-workers is polite and respectful. I have no hesitation in acting as a reference on their behalf, and I am sure that the attributes that make them a valuable employee will also make them an outstanding renter for your apartment. 

Please contact me if you have any further questions.

Sincerely,

[Reference name]

[Address]

[Phone number]

[Email address]

3. Personal reference letter for a tenant

Here is a template for a tenant reference letter from a roommate to a landlord.

[Current date]

Dear [landlord],

My name is [reference’s name], and I have been [renter’s name]’s roommate at 33 Apartment Lane since September 2017. In that time, I have gotten to know [renter] very well. 

They are a kind and thoughtful roommate, never imposing on me or abusing our relationship. They are ethical and honest. They do their share of the housework and pay their portion of the rent on time. 

Although I am sorry to have them move out, I know they will be an ideal tenant in your building. Please don’t hesitate to call or email me if you have any follow-up questions.

Thank you,

[Reference name]

[Address]

[Phone number]

[Email address]

For the renter: Who to choose as a rental reference

As a renter, knowing who to ask to act as your personal reference is nearly as important as what they write. In some cases, a potential landlord will ask for a very specific reference, such as:

  • Current employer
  • Current landlord
  • Previous employer
  • Previous landlord

This kind of reference requirement doesn’t leave much wiggle room for you if your relationship with this person has been strained. Having a bad reference is a legal reason for a landlord to deny your application. 

If you suspect that you may be getting a less-than-glowing reference from an employer or previous landlord, you must balance out your rental application with extremely strong references from other areas of your life.

However, if you’re lucky, your potential landlord will leave the choice of reference entirely up to you. In this case, be sure to choose a reference whose judgment you trust and who will indubitably advocate well on your behalf.

Beyond your employer,  supervisor, or current landlord, some people who might make a good reference are your:

  • Professor or coach
  • Mentor or advisor
  • Roommate
  • Coworker

People who you shouldn’t ask to act as reference include your:

  • Parents, grandparents, or close family member
  • Casual friends
  • Family friends

Now, more than ever before, a potential landlord will be able to use social media to research who your reference is beyond their letter. So, remember to choose carefully. How your reference conducts themselves throughout the letter is a direct reflection on you and can make or break your application.

Find your dream apartment without the hassle with Landing

Whether you’re asking for a reference letter or writing one yourself, it’s important to be professional, honest, and timely. At Landing, we know that finding the right apartment is a process. To that end, let us help take some of the stress out of the situation for you. 

Our simple, streamlined application process eliminates many of the traditional rental application hurdles—including reference letters. Streamline your living arrangements with Landing and browse our available apartments today.

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About the author

Bri Hand

Bri Hand is Landing's Content Marketing Manager. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with her partner and dog, Arlo, but relishes any opportunity she can to travel so she can try new foods, see gorgeous sights, and daydream about living somewhere new after visiting there for less than 24 hours.