11

For reference: I had a tenant for 2 years in my 1 bedroom apartment with her cat. Her lease is expiring and I will not renew it because my son needs a place for college. However, the cat absolutely destroyed the carpet with its claws, and I had to pay to have it entirely replaced. The vinyl blinds looking out the window were also bent and had to be replaced.

She apologized but doesn't seem to think it's a "big deal" because she's paying for it from her deposit. She also is complaining that finding a new rental is extremely difficult and wants a referral. Of course I cannot in good conscience recommend a tenant with such a cat. Do I simply decline her request? Or allow her to list me but, if called, offer my honest (yet negative) opinion?

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  • 95
    I don't understand your negative impression - if the tenant bought you a new carpet, what's the problem? You now have a new carpet instead of a used one; and for free. What's bad about that?
    – Aganju
    Jun 13, 2022 at 6:55
  • 5
    @PeteCon your own son going to college is a lot different than your Uncle Bob. I think the assumption is that they are going to be paying next to or literally nothing and it is convenient for both the parent and child to have peace of mind for college housing.
    – windwally
    Jun 13, 2022 at 15:08
  • 12
    Is this your first time renting to someone with a pet? Some property damage is common for basically any pet, including cats. Some landlords will even do a small bump in rental rate (Something around $25 per pet) to cover this known cost - in addition to paying for the damages out of the deposit. I might recommend you implement a similar policy if you haven't already. Or, if this is really non-negotiable to you, do not allow any pets in the future.
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 13, 2022 at 15:45
  • 8
    @Zibbobz I currently pay +$40/month for a small dog, and put up an additional $250 pet deposit when I moved in. My lease also spells out the costs of replacement for pretty much everything in the apartment. Some things are waived after I lived here more than two years, though carpet replacement (if needed, when I leave) is not waived. Jun 13, 2022 at 15:58
  • 41
    Do you have any particular problem with this tenant? Damage was done, damage was paid, that's what deposits are for. She even apologised for buying you a new carpet. A referral is factual and simple: paid her rent on time (yes/no), paid for damages not attributable to fair use after 2 years (yes/no), any complaints from neighbors (yes/no).
    – njzk2
    Jun 13, 2022 at 17:46

7 Answers 7

91

If the damage done is covered by the deposit, then I wouldn't give the tenant a bad reference, that's the point of the deposit. Even if it wasn't covered by the deposit, if they willingly covered the excess I would still not give them a bad reference.

If you disagree/have other reasons not to give a good reference, then the courteous thing to do is to let the tenant know that if contacted you would not provide a good reference.

As an alternative you could offer to provide a summary of rent paid (due date and date paid for the duration of the tenancy), which might help them without you endorsing them as a tenant.

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    I think this answer does a good job at providing a more objective perspective to a third party. On paper, if a tenant paid on time and covered all damages- they're a good renter. I think renters often rent spaces they're in some way emotionally attached to so take damage personally regardless of whether or not it's paid for.
    – rob
    Jun 13, 2022 at 15:12
  • 8
    I side with @rob. No harm (i.e. outstanding debts), no foul (i.e. good renter). Jun 13, 2022 at 20:46
35

Generally when providing reference it would be best to refrain from matters of opinion. Did the tenant pay as agreed and on time and covered all the damage caused? That's all you can answer without risking a defamation suit.

The damage you're describing is, honestly, expected when you have a tenant with pets, especially cats. Ask for extra deposit ("pet deposit") next time. The cat didn't do anything wrong, the cat did what all cats do.

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    I was advised that it's fine for me to tell inquiring landlords whether or not I would rent to the tenant again, but beyond that I stick to timeliness of rent, proper/timely notices given, and whether or not I had to use damage deposit for anything.
    – Hart CO
    Jun 13, 2022 at 1:19
  • 2
    As the question doesn't specify a jurisdiction, it's worth pointing out that the advice in this answer to ask for a larger deposit is not necessarily valid everywhere. In England and Wales for example, most tenancies have a capped deposit of 5 weeks rent (exceptions exist but would go beyond the scope of an answer comment).
    – JBentley
    Jun 13, 2022 at 18:36
  • 2
    "the cat did what all cats do", I tend to disagree with that kind of sentence, because my pet doesn't have the same behavior as the others. In fact, he behaves.
    – Clockwork
    Jun 14, 2022 at 6:35
  • 3
    @Clockwork Yeah, I've not heard of a cat just completely destroying the carpet. That definitely doesn't sound like normal behavior for cats (at least not when they have proper places to scratch, like a scratching post). Still, it doesn't really change the answer. Some damage can be expected when dealing with pets.
    – Dnomyar96
    Jun 14, 2022 at 7:56
  • 1
    @Clockwork I suspect "destroying the carpet" is a bit of a hyperbole. I have not seen cats not do any damage at all, though.
    – littleadv
    Jun 14, 2022 at 16:47
21

You must amortize damage to the carpet

What is the normal interval of replacement for that quality of carpet, given normal wear and tear for normal tenants?

How old was the carpet when the tenant moves in?

Suppose the carpet costs $1000 and lasts 10 years normally. It was 6 years old when the tenant moved in, so it had $600 of its life already used up, and $400 of life remaining. The tenant was entitled to use $200 of its life during a 2 year tenancy, so the tenancy should have finished with $200 of value remaining in the carpet. Since the carpet is destroyed, $200 should be taken from the deposit.

Of course, amateur landlords acting on emotion rather than amortization, tend to suffer a cognitive bias: they see a $1000 carpet bill roll in, and they literally perceive that as entirely the tenant's fault. The big bill HURTS, and they won't be swayed from that emotion by cost accounting.

Well what if the carpet was brand new when the tenant moved in? In that case still, they already paid for (to extend the example) $200 of normal wear and tear as part of their 2 years rent. The excess wear is $800 and that's what they owe you.

Now you see how landlords get bad reputations?

If you aren't conversant in this type of accounting and haven't properly amortized the damage, then maybe don't use the phrase "good conscience". It is real easy to be a scumbag without realizing it.

That said, wait til all the chips have fallen.

To be sure, you need to wait til the carpet is up. Cats often pee all over the carpet, and the smell is overwhelming. An apartment would be absolutely unrentable until that smell is dealt with. And eradicating it can be much harder than you might think, we deal with that on the DIY stack from time to time. And it has a funny way of coming back when it rains.

So you need to timely return the deposit which is not foreseeably needed to cover damage, you should assess the damage as quickly as possible.

18

"I had to pay to have the carpet entirely replaced" is not quite accurate. You charged your tenant (by withholding money from her deposit) to have the carpet replaced. The difference is that it actually didn't cost you anything to repair the damage, other than your time and apparent insult that your property was damaged.

From the information offered, I don't know that your honest reference needs to be negative. You could say she always paid her rent on time and she paid for some pet-caused carpet damage when her lease ended.

If your only complaint was that some things that wear out (like carpet) had to be replaced and her deposit covered the cost, it seems to me she has been the ideal tenant.

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    Good answer, but in fairness to the tenant I think it is important to offer more neutral phrasing than "damage" which is fairly negative. My suggestion: "She always paid her rent on time, she has a cat, and her deposit covered all wear & tear from her pet."
    – Thomas W
    Jun 14, 2022 at 1:42
6

I'm going to disagree with the previous answers and suggest you not treat the damage as water under the bridge, as it can signify values problems that may lead to damage not covered by the deposit in the future. It's also not your place to give them a subjectively bad reference though. Maybe the landlord who calls is okay with that: apartment complexes have to replace carpet all the time. Maybe the landlord is looking for a tenant they can trust and the lack of care for carpet damage is a no-go. It's a decision their new landlord needs to make, and not you.

Instead, provide an objective reference: "The tenant always paid on-time, and didn't bother me for trivial repairs like light bulb replacement. There was sustained damage to the carpet over time by the tenant's cat, and the damage was covered by the deposit."

The new landlord can make a judgement call based on that, and your personal opinion about the tenant has not affected their ability to find a place to stay.

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    Apartment complexes have to replace carpets all the time... And individual homeowners what? Don't? It doesn't matter if you only have one rental unit or a thousand, you still need to keep it in a livable condition, and yes - it includes changing carpets. Here in California you can't even charge tenants at all if they lived in the unit for more than X years, it's just the wear and tear.
    – littleadv
    Jun 14, 2022 at 1:53
  • 1
    "And individual homeowners what? Don't?" Right. My parents rented their house for 2 years because they had to live elsewhere temporarily for work. It wasn't meant to be a business for them -- just cover costs. They wanted a renter that would treat the place like it was their own and hand it off in the same condition they found it. Not every rental is a dedicated income stream.
    – Drew
    Jun 14, 2022 at 5:05
  • 2
    @Drew if that's what the OP wanted they shouldn't have rented to a tenant with a pet, plain and simple. Even then, you may want whatever you want, but life happens and wine spills. Tenant laws still apply, and deposits exist for a reason.
    – littleadv
    Jun 14, 2022 at 5:23
  • 1
    There are plenty of responsible people that own pets. My parents that were renting their house did (dogs). Ultimately though, it's the new landlord that gets to make the call on what they deem acceptable, and not us. The only way to enable them to do that is to provide unflavored, objective information.
    – Drew
    Jun 14, 2022 at 5:31
  • 1
    @Clockwork thanks, that's a good idea. Edited As far as the second comment, it is in the answer: "It's a decision their new landlord needs to make, and not you."
    – Drew
    Jun 15, 2022 at 1:50
3

You can always give an honest reference.

"I confirm the tenant Madam Abc rented my property at Abc Street between x.y.zz and a.b.cc.

She was a responsible person, she always paid rent on time and there were never any complaints from neighbours.

However there was some damage to the property from her pet which required using her deposit money to rectify.

Sincerely, me."

There you go. Easy.

-4

I will answer the way I did in a similar situation where I fired an employee for horrible performance that asked me for a reference.

"I'd be happy to provide a reference, but I am going to be honest when they call. You don't want to list me as a reference."

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    very different situation, as the tenant didn't actually do anything wrong (the situation would be comparable if she had been evicted, for example)
    – njzk2
    Jun 13, 2022 at 17:47
  • I feel like this answer is not so different from Drew's. The main difference being that the other answer is more factual than honest. The main point stands though: it's up to the next landlord to determine whether or not they find it acceptable.
    – Clockwork
    Jun 14, 2022 at 6:51

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