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The perfect landlord letter of recommendation

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If you are a renter attempting to buy a NYC co-op or condo--or sometimes even if you are just trying to rent another apartment--you will be asked for a letter of recommendation from your previous landlord. 

So what makes a good letter—and what do you do if you have a bad relationship with your landlord?

From a co-op and condo board’s perspective, the three key phrases to remember are “tenant in good standing,” “always pays the rent on time,” and “excellent tenant,” says Deanna Kory, a real estate broker at Corcoran.

“A good letter has one or more of those phrases--usually at least two,” she says. "Otherwise, it can lead to questions.”

If you have a dog, suggests Sheila Vogel, a broker at Barak Realty, it might also be a good idea to have the landlord attest to its good behavior—specifically, that your dog is well-behaved, quiet, and that the landlord never had a problem with it.

Similar advice applies to letters requested by landlords.

“The most sought-after attribute is that the tenant paid rent on time all the time,” says Gus Waite, a managing director and rental broker at BondNY, who estimates that about 10 percent of landlords ask for a letter. “Testaments to quiet and cleanliness are the next most important. 

So what do you do if you are leaving your landlord on not-so-good terms?

Renters can simply avoid landlords who require the letters, notes Waite.  But co-op and condo buyers will need to finesse the situation as best they can.

“Sometimes, we show 12 to 24 months of cancelled rent checks with a letter of explanation as to why we don’t have a letter,” says Kory.  Among the explanations: The tenant is buying and doesn’t want to alert the landlord just yet.

How much could a missing letter hurt you with a co-op board?

“The landlord letter is one of many reference letters, so as long as the rest of the package is strong, and a good, reasonable explanation--one that is well written and convincing—accompanies the cancelled rent checks, then there usually isn’t a problem,” says Kory. “However, if a person has an average credit score  and average other elements in their presentation, it can raise a huge red flag….The letter has to be the right slant or it will raise issues. In this area, all brokers are not equal.”

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