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Who to Choose as Your Personal References

Once you’ve found the place you’d like to rent, you need to fill out a rental application, provide proof of income, consent to background and credit checks, provide personal references, pay a deposit and sign the lease. All of these tasks can be daunting, but they’re standard procedure when it comes to leasing a new apartment or condo.

When it comes to choosing a personal reference for your rental application, you may feel anxious about who to include. You’re eager to get the apartment and want your personal reference to reflect you in the best light. So, who do you choose as your personal references? Let’s walk through who to include (and who to exclude) when it comes to choosing a personal reference for your apartment.


Who to choose as your personal reference

Most landlords or property owners will request a list of personal references as part of the application process. This is another way for them to verify who you are, get to know your character and gauge if you’ll be a reliable tenant. Likewise, you may want to check out who your future landlord is.

Because personal references can influence a landlord’s decision to rent to you or not, you want to choose your references wisely. Here are some people who make for good references on a rental application.

  • Past landlords: The best choice for a personal reference is a past property manager, assuming you left on good terms. Previous landlords will know how you were as a tenant, how you left the apartment when you vacated it and your ability to pay rent on time. If you can have your past landlord as your personal reference, you’re in luck.
  • Managers or coworkers: While you may be friends with your manager or coworker, they’re first and foremost business colleagues. As such, they’ll be able to speak to your professionalism and conduct, which is what a landlord is looking to better understand. Your manager will be able to speak to your reliability and work ethic.
  • Coaches or mentors: Coaches and mentors are also good options when it comes to choosing a personal reference. They’ll likely know your goals, values, strengths and weaknesses and will be able to speak to your landlord about those things.
  • Professors or teachers: Academic professors or teachers are good personal references because they’ll also know your work ethic and drive. If a student is dedicated to their work, it’s a good indicator they’re dedicated and motivated in other areas of their lives, too.

Who not to choose as a personal reference

Keep in mind, a landlord is using your personal reference as a way to understand if you’re reliable and will make a good future tenant. Landlords are looking for red flags so they don’t sign a lease with someone who will end up causing stress and problems in the future. While these are all good options of who to choose as your personal reference, there are people to exclude, as well.

  • Partner or spouse: Your significant other may know you the best but they’re likely biased and the future landlord will know that. Avoid listing a partner or spouse as your rental reference because it’s likely a landlord will take their opinion with a grain of salt.
  • Close family members: Likewise, family members are not your best choice as a personal reference. Obviously, your family members want the best for you, so they may not give the landlord an honest opinion on your rental eligibility. And after all, that’s what the landlord is looking for.
  • Close friends: Just like family members or romantic partners, a close friend is not the optimal choice as a personal reference. Property owners are looking for references who can vouch for your ability to pay your bills on time or how reliable a tenant you’ll be.


Best practices to consider

Now that you have a list of who to choose as a personal reference, here are a few best practices to keep in mind.

1. Always notify the person you’re listing as a reference

If you’re going to use a previous landlord or professor as a reference, it’s common courtesy to ask if they’re willing to be a reference and let them know you’ll be giving out their contact information. It can look unprofessional if a landlord were to call a reference and they had no idea what was going on.

2. Provide a few options in case someone isn’t available

It’s smart to provide a list of at least two personal references in case the first person is unavailable. Landlords want to speak to personal references, and if they can’t get a hold of anyone, they may pass on your application.

3. Note who is who on your rental application

To make things easier for the landlord, clearly annotate who is who on your rental application. This helps the property manager understand who they’ll be calling, the relationship and what to expect on the call.

Compiling your personal references

When you start apartment hunting, start compiling your list of personal references. This will make it easy for you to move fast and stand out if you’ve found a hot apartment that’ll lease quickly.


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