What is an Apartment Reference? +Do They Actually Call?

If you are applying to an apartment, you may come across a section of the application for references.

This section can be confusing if you haven’t seen it before, especially if it’s your first apartment application. No worries, though! We are here to walk you through the steps and answer what exactly is an apartment reference.

An apartment reference is someone you name on your rental application who speaks on your behalf to how responsible you are.

There are three main types of apartment references that landlords can ask you for. Rachel and I only asked for current employer and previous landlord- we’ll get into why a bit later. For now, here are the 3 types of apartment references you will come across.

What is an Apartment Reference

3 Types of Apartment References

In the reference section of the application you will need to provide the full name, phone number, and email address of your reference. Here’s the 3 main types:

1. Landlords (past and present)

We always asked for the current and past landlords name and contact information. If you live with your parents and never rented before, you should still put your parents’ names down for current landlord and leave the rest blank.

We would only contact the previous landlord, NOT the current landlord. The reason we did this was because a current landlord may just want to get rid of somebody. They would love to get rid of the tenant so they’ll tell a prospective landlord whatever they want to hear for that landlord to take their problem off their hands.

If we contacted the previous landlord, we would often get more honest feedback since they had nothing to lose or gain from being honest with us.

What questions do landlords ask previous landlords?

We would ask the following questions of the previous landlord of an applicant:

  1. What is his/her lease start and end date?   
  2. What is the monthly rent?
  3. Has he/she always paid as agreed?
  4. Are there any problems or complaints on file?  
  5. Would you rent to the tenant again?

Basically we are looking to see if you paid rent on time and didn’t cause major issues. Our rentals were like our homes so we loved renting to responsible people who had a great track record of being responsible and not causing issues in our units.

2. Employer

We would always contact the applicant’s current employer. Past employer wasn’t important to us as long as they’ve been at their current job for a reasonable amount of time.

What questions do landlords ask employers?

We would always ask these questions of employers of an applicant:

  1. Can you confirm that he/she is employed at this company?
  2. Are you able to provide his/her salary here or by phone?
  3. What was the date of hire?
  4. What is his/her position in the company?
  5. What are the terms of employment? Is it full-time, part-time or is there a trial or contract period?
  6. Is he/she a responsible employee?

What we were getting from these questions was mostly verification of your salary and how long you’ve worked there. If you lied about your income that would be an issue. We need to know that you have a steady income, can pay the rent, and are responsible.

3. Personal

This was the one that we did not ask for, however you may get this on some rental applications. A personal reference is just like a character witness on your behalf. The landlord will know that this is somebody you are friends with or related to, so odds are they will have good things to say about you.

We didn’t waste our time with these since whoever you provide will have nothing but great things to say about you. If they wouldn’t give you a shining endorsement, you probably wouldn’t list them would you?

You may see these pop up on rental applications but we never bothered with them. If you do see them on your application, as long as there’s no rules against friends/relatives, go ahead and use whoever you want- just make sure to let them know they may get a phone call.

What are Apartment Reference Release Consent Forms

As landlords, sometimes we would come across companies that had a systematic approach to releasing sensitive information. Sometimes they had their own form and sometimes we would have to use our own.

These information release forms exist so that a potential tenant’s job/landlord reference needs permission from the applicant for their information to be released to the landlord screening the applicant.

We came across this a lot and all we’d have to do was to send the form to the tenant so they can sign it. It usually says who is releasing the information, and who they are releasing it to.

Sensitive info shouldn’t be taken lightly, so these are always good to have to protect your data.

Sensitive data released by employers would be salary information of course, but any other specifics about the employee.

Sensitive data released by previous landlords would be verifying the rent amount that was paid, if there were any issues or complaints, eviction info, etc.

Why do landlords ask for references?

I know this can be an annoying part of the process- we’ve been on the tenant side of things as well.

However, as landlords, we found it important and worthwhile to follow up with the tenant’s employer and previous landlord in order to make sure that prospective tenants were being honest on their applications.

We were the ones calling the references, and thankfully we never had any responses from a reference that caused us to not proceed with a tenant.

This is just due diligence for a landlord and is just part of a good screening process. Sure, it can add a day or two to the process and delays your acceptance, but it’s worth it for the landlord.


Can I use my friend for a fake apartment reference?

No- Lying on a rental application with fake references is considered fraud. The landlord could possibly take legal action and sue you if this is discovered after the lease is signed.

Do landlords actually call my references?

We always did, but this will depend on your landlord doing your screening. We would call the reference, introduce ourselves and then ask them their relationship to the applicant. This weeds out friends who will be caught off-guard because we didn’t specify if we were verifying employment information or tenancy information.

Should I let my reference know I used them on a rental application?

Yes! This will prepare them for a possible phone call which they will appreciate a heads up on. A bigger management company doesn’t need notified but you should definitely let your boss know you used them as an employment reference.

What if my apartment reference provides a bad reference?

We didn’t encounter this but it would be up to the landlord. Depending on how bad, if may not be a deal breaker if the rest of your application and references look good.

Now that you know what an apartment reference is, you should be able to complete the process. Just remember to always be honest and always let your references know that you are using them and that they may get a phone call. Good luck!

About Chad & Rachel

Rachel and Chad have over 17 years of experience as both renters and landlords. They were tenants in 7 different apartments before becoming landlords of 9 apartments in Chicago. Renting apartments from landlords and being landlords themselves have helped them gain the knowledge that they want to share with renters. Whether you are at the beginning of your rental journey or in the middle of your lease and dealing with complex apartment issues, we are happy to help where we can. Read more about Rachel and Chad, or send a message using this contact form.

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