References Are All-Important When Applying for a Rental

Here's how references can be used by a landlord screening tenant applications.

Your past relationships with landlords, managers, and employers can make the difference between getting a rental unit and getting rejected. Prospective landlords will usually want to talk with your current and previous landlords, your employer, and your friends. Here’s what they’ll typically ask.

When talking to other landlords and managers:

  • Did you pay rent on time?

  • Were you considerate of neighbors (no loud parties, out-of-control kids, or dangerous dogs)?

  • Did you make unreasonable demands or complaints?

  • Did you take good care of the rental unit?

If your landlord says you were a pain in the neck, always paid rent late, and left the place a shambles, don’t expect the next landlord to welcome you with open arms.

When speaking with your boss:

  • How long have you worked at this job, and how much money do you make?

  • Are you a responsible person? Do you get along with coworkers?

  • Do you have any serious character flaws or weaknesses?

When talking to your friends (nonrelatives):

  • Are you a reliable, honest person?

  • Do you have good housekeeping habits, and are you considerate of others?

A landlord can’t force you to give references. And you may not want to, particularly if your current landlord or boss is a complete jerk and will have nothing good to say about you. But unless you can come up with a good substitute—another supervisor or maybe a resident manager—a prospective landlord will conclude that you’re withholding the name because you’re afraid of what the person might say. If you really can’t come up with some names, at least have a reasonable explanation for your reticence.

Many past landlords and employers won’t talk to your prospective landlord unless they have a signed release from you stating that it’s okay to answer the prospective landlord’s questions. In this litigious society, employers and landlords are afraid that you’ll sue them for defamation or the invasion of your privacy. This written permission assures your previous landlord, current or past employers, credit sources, or personal references that you won’t object if they respond truthfully to a landlord’s relevant questions about your work and employment history. For this reason, many prospective landlords will ask you to sign a release.

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