When it comes to a rental application, landlords want to know as much as they can about the person that will be occupying their property. By its nature, the rental application should require all kinds of information about the applicant, including credit, previous rental history, employment information, and criminal background. One thing that is commonly found on rental applications is the request for personal, or character, references.
As a landlord, you want to do tenant screening to find out everything you can in order to aid you in the decision-making process of renting your property. You also want to save time and resources pursuing those avenues that will give you real information. So, are personal references worth gathering, calling, and evaluating? You might be surprised at the answer.
What Are Personal References?
Personal or character references are the names and phone numbers the rental applicant provides on the application. These people will supposedly deliver a positive recommendation and share more about the applicant’s good qualities and character. The personal or character references are generally not family members, but maybe friends, co-workers, business associates or others that the applicant feels would provide a positive reference.
Many landlords and property managers feel that personal references are a waste of time because they realize that the personal references are generally going to be people whom the applicant feels would say the best things about them to a potential landlord. Therefore it may seem like on the surface that checking these references may simply be not worth the time to follow up on. After all, if the applicant has put them down as a personal or character reference, then, of course, they are going to say good things about the applicant, either genuinely or after being coached by the applicant.
3 Reasons to Check Personal References
So why should landlords bother calling references who are simply going to reinforce what the applicant wants you to think? While skipping the personal references is a good way to save landlords sometime during the application process, there are a few things to consider before deciding to scrap the references completely.
There are 3 very important reasons to go ahead and make those phone calls:
- You may get the ugly truth. There is always a chance that a reference isn’t exactly on board with supporting the applicant and if they are more honest in their recommendations, you’ve gained some valuable information about the applicant. By taking some time and asking open-ended questions of the contact person, you’ll make them feel more comfortable and provide them a chance to reveal what they really think.
- You get a glimpse of who they associate with. It gives you some insight into what kind of people the applicant associates with because most personal and character references will represent a cross-section of friends and co-workers. Are they all old college buddies that haven’t really talked to the applicant in years? Or are they managers, co-committee members, or longtime friends that give you a snapshot of the applicant’s current life? Getting all the information you can about applicants is valuable in making your overall decision.
- You have verified emergency contacts. It’s important to verify that these personal references are real and reachable. Why? In the event that your applicant becomes your tenant and in a worst-case scenario, they skip out on you without paying rent. In that unfortunate situation, many landlords regret not getting emergency contacts or personal references upfront, before they find themselves scrambling to find anyone who might know where the tenant is. When you are trying to track down a tenant who has abandoned the unit and skipped out on you, having numerous contact people on hand gives you the best chance of reaching them to deliver notices and starting any legal processes.
In summary, listening to what personal references have to say may not make much of a difference in your decision if they are all positive. However, talking to them may surprise you with some less than stellar details, might give you a good idea of what the applicant is like, and protect you in the event of a bad situation in the future.
Small Effort May Lead To Big Payoff
Most of the time, contacting an applicant’s personal references may not have much of an impact on your decision-making process. However, the information you gather just might shed some more light on your impression of the applicant and help you go with your gut feeling. Personal or character references sometimes can provide interesting additional information along with prior rental history, employment verification, credit score, income verification, criminal background, and so forth.
A good reference from someone doesn’t really mean the person will be a good tenant, and landlords should never base their decision primarily on the quality of personal or character references. Those decisions should be made with measurable, provable information. However, gathering the contact information for personal references, as well as taking the time to communicate with them, may lead to some valuable information and help create a more solid safety net for landlords in the future.
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