Importance of Tenant References for Landlords

Landlords dream of finding the perfect tenant who pays the rent on time, respects their rented home and doesn’t upset the neighbours.

Unfortunately, some tenants are perfect.

That’s why references and tenant assessment reports (similar to credit checks) are essential. Running checks hopefully reveals any potential problems, but once a renter has moved in, there’s no guarantee they will keep their side of the tenancy agreement.

Taking references before a tenant moves in is the landlord’s opportunity to gather information about their suitability to rent a home.

Why are tenant references important?

References are essential as they confirm the tenant’s identity - necessary for the right to rent checks while protecting the landlord from fraud.

If you take out rent guarantee insurance, the provider will want to know you checked references before handing over the keys so the tenant can move in.

A landlord also wants to know that the tenant can afford the rent and has a steady job.

The tenant is not necessarily bad if the referencing process turns up adverse credit or some other inconsistencies. Most people have a financial low at some time, and as long as the references show the situation is over and repaired, the applicant can still be considered.

What information is needed for a tenant reference?

Data protection law requires former landlords or letting agents not to divulge a tenant’s personal information without their permission.

An application form with a privacy policy explaining how you will handle the data is a good idea. The Guild provides an online application form for applicants to complete.

The typical information required might include:

  • The tenant’s full name, date of birth and addresses for the past three years.
  • Current and previous landlord details.
  • Are they a smoker, and do they have pets?
  • Are other occupiers related to them? This is needed to check whether the property might inadvertently become an HMO.
  • Landlords should also ask for a job history with payslips showing proof of earnings for at least six months.
  • Photo ID, such as a driving licence or passport.
  • Proof of address comes from recent bills for utilities or council tax, bank statements or a previous tenancy agreement.
  • For the right to rent, landlords need a photo ID plus sight of any permission to live in the UK.

            Find out more about the Right to Rent.

Always ask for original documents and do not accept photographs or copies, as these can be manipulated.

How to check a reference

Landlords can carry out the checks once the tenant has signed off the reference form.

You can do this yourself or pass the documents to a company to do the job.

DIY referencing costs little - just a couple of hours and a few pounds for the credit referencing. A referencing service costs more but saves time. The Guild provides a tenant assessment check - an instant report with a score. It's similar to a credit check (but landlords can't do a credit check on a tenant because no credit is being provided).

A check will confirm the applicant’s public records, like the electoral roll and detail any court judgments or defaults.

If you want to ask for a guarantor, it's a good idea to ensure they are a homeowner, and you can confirm their name and address on the Land Registry website. Each check costs £3.

View Related Handbook Page

Tenant References and Guarantors

Landlords should interview prospective tenants carefully to assist in choosing one who will be trustworthy and reliable. Taking up references from a prospective tenant’s current or previous landlord, employer and bank can help to inform the tenant selection process.