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 know how to express it to a property owner/agent.

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.

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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 bestie, it’ll be pretty clear their opinion might be a little more than biased.

Where possible, choose people who can talk about how well 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 to show off your ability to look after a property.

How to approach your rental references

If you have a few people in mind but want to select the most appropriate for your rental 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

If you’ve thought of a handful of people who know you well, it’s time to work out if 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 the reference they provide could be negative.

A better move here is to offer your potential reference a way out. Let them know you won’t be offended if they’d 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 them, they’re probably the perfect rental reference.

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

An employer: These people have probably worked with you for a long time and would also be a great reference. Just make sure they’re happy with your work ethic and attitude first!

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

At the end of the day, 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

No rental references? Don’t stress.

Even if you have never rented before, you can still find people who make great rental application references.

Choose co-workers, employers, coaches or mentors. These are the ideal people to tell your potential landlord/agent what you would be like as a tenant, based on their experience working with, coaching or mentoring you.

These are good references because their commentary will be even broader than ‘Yes, Matt paid his rent on time,’ but they’ll help demonstrate the characteristics of someone who would show great behaviour during a tenancy.

Hot tip: Have your employer vouch for your timeliness and attendance, as well as how long you’ve been employed. Reliability, punctuality and stability are all key factors a landlord/agent want to know about.

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 bad credit.

In some cases, the agent will run a credit check against your name to see how you have handled money in the past. Based on the result, they will have an indication of how reliably you could pay the rent.

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

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