How to deal with a dishonest bad rental reference

When Your Landlord Gives a Bad Rental Reference

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Dealing With Bad Rental References

My husband and I have been living in a bad situation with our landlord for awhile because we have felt like we couldn't afford another place. Our landlord violates our privacy, doesn't fix things, and is just not a very nice person with which to deal. Our problem is that we have heard "through the grapevine" that this landlord never gives good references regardless of the type of tenant you were.

My husband and I do have good references from previous landlords, but that has been three years in my case and five years in my husband's case. What chance do we have of being able to rent a decent place with a bad reference from our current landlord? What should we tell new landlords checking out our references? I have always been a very honest person, but I am tempted to make up a story about living with family or friends because I am so stressed about this situation.
Rachel B.

Be Honest About Bad Reference

I've been researching the rental/landlord market because we are considering becoming landlords. The books I've read acknowledge there are bad landlords out there who give bad references for good tenants. Therefore, I'm sure the landlords in your area are also aware of this, and may even be aware of this particular landlord's reputation.

You can tell a prospective landlord (or write it on the rental application) that you are not sure if your current landlord will give a good reference and that you've had problems with him. Ask them to check with your past landlords, and also ask if they'd accept other personal references (which is what they'd have to do if you had no rental history). I think it's best to be as honest as possible without being overly critical of your current landlord. (You don't want to sound like a complainer.)

If you still have problems finding a new landlord to accept you, you may wish to contact your local housing authority or other government agency in charge of rental properties. If you make a written complaint against your current landlord, outlining his refusal to make repairs, etc., you will then have a written record to show potential new landlords. I don't think you'll have that much trouble finding a new landlord, but doing this may also help other renters who are suffering with your same current landlord.
Teresa in WI

A Former Landlord on References

As a former landlord, I might suggest that you call your local credit-reporting agency and learn how you might obtain a current credit report on both yourself and your husband. Make copies and be prepared to give one to any potential landlord when you wish to apply for the rental he/she is offering.

I would further suggest that you explain to the potential landlord that there is ill will between you and your current landlord. You pay your rent on time, have maintained your residence, have not disturbed your neighbors, etc. Any property owner should be aware that there are good landlords as well as some folks who have less than sterling reputations for honesty and integrity.

Your potential new landlord may wish to contact a former landlord, prior to the current, for a character reference. Smart landlords know this to be almost preferable as a non-rent paying tenant may get a glorified report from a current landlord, just so that he/she can get rid of them without an eviction action. You may also wish to provide the name of a clergyman, local businessperson, employer, etc. that might provide a character reference to support other factors.

You may also make copies of checks or receipts for rent paid in the past to establish that your rent has been paid in a timely manner. Additionally, you might get a disposable camera and take pictures of the interior (and exterior if appropriate) of your residence, to demonstrate the way you maintain your home.

These same actions will help to support your case should the current landlord fail to return any deposit funds that are due you. You may wish to take the matter to Small Claims Court. This local County Court is designed for just such minor claims and the Court Clerk will help provide instructions for taking this action.

There are many good, caring and honest landlords out there. Like any other businessperson, they are simply offering a valuable product for lease for a period of time. They often are paying for the property as well as the taxes, insurance, operating expenses and maintenance. Therefore, though they wish to rent their product, it is important that they are assured you will be a good tenant.

Please remember that the interview process goes both ways. Ask any potential landlord questions as to how he deals with certain situations. This may include questions about entering your premises without notice, his/her record on returning deposits, the reasons for which he/her would withhold a deposit, etc.

Last but not least, be sure that the Rental Agreement is a good and inclusive document. That means it should protect the landlord as well as the tenant. You should have a "walk through" inspection before moving in, and if possible, take pictures. Itemize all needed repairs and damage to the premises such as gouges in the drywall, stained carpet, etc. You and the landlord should both sign it and each should retain a copy. It is always better to handle such matters in a professional fashion.

Be Prepared to Discuss Bad References

In reply to the lady whose landlord might not provide a decent reference, I would suggest putting together evidence to the contrary. Be sure to keep all of your cancelled rent checks and receipts to prove that your rent was paid on time. Also, take pictures of each room of your home, showing that it was indeed kept in good condition. I think with this extra effort, you will effectively show any prospective new landlord that you are good tenants and they'll be impressed by your willingness to prove it!
Cheryl in Michigan

Write the Reference Yourself

Ask your current landlord for a written reference in person. Better yet, write the reference yourself and ask him to sign it. If the statement you prepare details the true facts about your rental status (that you've always paid on time, that you've not damaged any property, and how long you've been there), then he should have no reason to refuse to sign it. You should also have a witness present to sign as well, so he can't later claim it wasn't his signature. Unless your landlord really enjoys conflict, he isn't likely to refuse a good reference to your face.

We Liked Bad Reference Honesty

I know you're tempted to make up a story, but don't! We are landlords of a property with duplexes. We have had people lie to get in, finding out later that the last reference of living with family was false. They have proven to be poor tenants. I do think honesty is the best policy. Most, if not all, landlords have been "lied to," and it is indeed a breath of fresh air to hear someone come clean in the beginning. We've actually had people leave off the last reference, letting us know the way it was with a particular landlord. We've appreciated that honesty.
Susan in CA

Reputation for Giving Bad References

I had the same situation when I went to move, and I was trying to think up the best way to explain it to my potential future landlady. However, when I began my spiel, she immediately said she'd heard of my landlord and that I had no need to explain. So, if you are moving to a new home in the same town, chances are your not-so-ethical landlord may very well have a reputation among the area's landlords. They may know exactly how he is, which will be your saving grace!

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Eliminate Reference Questions

I am the Project Director for our County's Housing Search Assistance Program. I teach Housing Search Skills to Section 8 voucher holders, and one area we cover in depth is prior rental history. If someone has poor rental history, or no rental history, we encourage them to get letters of recommendation from previous landlords. Also, personal letters of recommendations from employers, clergy, etc. go a long way.

If you are unsure of what your current landlord might say about you, ask him to fill out a written evaluation form. You can usually get these from your local Board of Realtors Association. That way if you apply for other housing you can attach the written form to your application along with your other letters of recommendation. This sometimes eliminates a call to the current owner.

The last advice I can give may be the most important. As soon as you turn in your first application, make sure you keep your current unit looking neat and tidy. Lawn mowed, curtains or blinds neat, porch area free of debris, vehicles clean, etc. Many owners will do a drive by of an applicant's address to make their final decision. The bottom line is that they want to rent to someone who will take care of their unit.

Records Dispute Bad Reference

Here are some ideas. While still living there, take pictures of the home so you can show the way you lived in it. When you move out, take pictures before you leave to show the condition you left it in. Make copies of all your cancelled rent checks to prove you paid your rent on time. Get letters from your neighbors attesting that you were a good, quiet neighbor. If you paid your rent on time, didn't damage the home, and didn't disturb the neighbors, the landlord would have a hard time proving you were a bad tenant.

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