How to choose your rental references
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Submitting a great rental application is key to getting the rental property you want. Once your personal information, proof of income and background checks are complete, the references you include with your application can make or break the deal.

A rental reference (or referral) is a vote of confidence from someone who knows you in a personal, financial, educational, professional, or prior rental experience capacity.

Ideally, your rental reference will know you well enough to speak to your character and express it to a property manager.

Who you choose as your reference and what they say about you can make all the difference to your application. Here are a few things to consider when you get to this stage.

Are you shown as a good tenant?

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What relevance does your rental reference have to you?

When a property manager starts screening applicants and calling references, they will ask each person how they know you. If you include your Dad and uni mate, their opinion may look a little biased.

Where possible, choose people who can talk about how you’ve performed at your current job (your employer, for example). Look for a reference who can say you’ve demonstrated great personal responsibility through other means.

If possible, add a previous landlord to your reference list who can vouch for your ability to look after a rental property.

How to approach your rental references

If you have a few people in mind but want to select the most appropriate person for your application, think about some open-ended questions for them. Things like, ‘If I were to list you as a reference, what would you say you’ve noticed about me and responsibility?’ The answers you get will give you some idea of who to include.

Try to select people who know you well. You don’t want to pick casual acquaintances or a tutor who took you for one class back in the day. Avoid including your boyfriend or family members unless you plan to include personal references.

Choose your rental references wisely.

Once you’ve thought of a few people who know you well, work out whether they’d provide a positive reference for you. Remember, some people find it hard to say no to others, or they might not tell you that the reference they provide could be less than glowing.

A better move here is to offer your potential reference a way out. Let them know you won’t be offended should they prefer not to be contacted. Gauge their reaction and decide whether you still want to use them on your rental application.

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Who makes the perfect rental reference? 

A former landlord/property manager: If you had a good experience with your former property manager and know they would speak highly of you as a tenant, they’re probably the perfect choice.

A career mentor: Career mentors could make an excellent reference for your rental application. Their experience with you will most likely be a professional one, and they’ll be able to speak highly of your good qualities and ability to perform under pressure.

An employer: Employers have probably worked with you for a long time and would also make a great reference. Top tip: Ensure they’re happy with your work ethic and attitude first!

Volunteer supervisor: Have you done volunteer work in the past? If you worked under one supervisor, they would also make a great choice.

Think about the people in your life who think best of you in terms of what is needed to be a good tenant, such as:

  • Personal and financial responsibility;
  • Professionalism; and
  • Accountability
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No rental reference? Don’t stress.

Even if you’ve never rented before, you can still find people who make perfect rental application references.

Choose co-workers, employers, coaches or mentors. These are the ideal people to tell your potential landlord or property manager what you’d be like as a tenant. They will base their experience on what it was like to work with, coach or mentor you.

These people also make good references because their commentary will be even broader than ‘Yes, Matt paid his rent on time.’ Their opinion will also help demonstrate the character of someone who would make a great tenant.

Hot tip: Ask your employer to vouch for your timeliness and attendance. Reliability, punctuality and stability are all important factors for a landlord/agent.

Have a bad credit history? Be prepared to explain.

If you have quality references to include in your rental application, that’s half the battle done – especially if you have a bad credit score.

In some cases, the agent will run a credit check against your name to see how you have previously handled money. This result may be an indication of how reliably you could pay the rent.

Including good rental references will help vouch for your current (and past) spending habits and clarify any points the agent may question about your financial responsibility.

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Lauren Vardy
Lauren Vardy

Lauren Vardy is the Content Manager at Rent.com.au, Australia's largest company dedicated to renters (ASX:RNT). Lauren has worked with Rent.com.au since 2015 and manages the Rent.com.au Blog. Formerly a journalist with Fairfax Media and Rural Press, Lauren has worked with multiple media groups in Australia and internationally on a freelance basis through publications including the Esperance Express, Southeast Asia Globe, Colosoul Magazine, The Sunday Times, and more.