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May 29, 2019

My Terrible Ex-Roomie Wants a Reference

Hey, Bonita…

Hi Bonita,

I wrote you recently about my roommate who ate all of my food, including my half of my birthday cake. Thankfully, they've moved on, but I was just contacted by them for a reference. Ack! I don't wanna be a hater, but they were an awful roommate. Most references want to know about rent—which they paid on time, except for two instances they communicated very well to me about—but everything else was AWFUL. Not only did they eat my food, they were loud and dirty—didn't even clean up properly when they moved out—and gave me less than 30 days notice before moving out.

I feel torn, because I want them to be able to get housing. I know how hard it can be, and I don't want to be the reason they don't get a place, but I honestly would never in my right mind recommend that ANYONE live with them or have them as a renter.

Any tips on how to handle this? I honestly just don't want to deal with them ever again.

It all depends on whom and what the reference is for. If it’s the property management agency that needs your reference, it’s most likely that their main concern is late payments and bounced checks. I’ve seen referral forms for local rental agencies, and those are the only two blank fields for references to fill out, so you’re probably good there. You can tell the absolute truth and rest well at night. If it’s a potential roommate or landlord of a shared home—like someone renting out a garage apartment or an in-law suite—then they’re probably going to have questions about this person’s character, as well.

This less-than-great roommate is putting you in a pretty awkward position by asking you to provide a glowing reference. I’ve been in a similar situation with a former co-worker and current friend. She was constantly late and full of excuses on her poor performance—excuses that I knew were lies, because we partied together plenty after hours. She asked me to provide a reference for another job, and I said sure, because even though I knew her to be a bad worker, I wanted her to have a job. But when I got the call, I was addressed as the director of a Housing and Urban Development office in another city, where she’d interned about five years before we ever met. She’d put me down as a reference, but the wrong one.

I sweated my way through an hour-long phone call and made up all kinds of lies on the spot, terrified that I was probably committing a crime. I was in too deep to suddenly say, “Psych! We worked together at a sex shop, and she was actually my manager. What is HUD?” I called her immediately afterwards and rescinded my offer to be a reference for her. We’re still friends, and I always visit with her when I’m in her town, but I’ve laid down clear boundaries about our co-worker past, since she’s still no better at keeping a job. Bless her heart, but I never deserved to be put in that position, and it certainly wasn’t worth the stress and anxiety that it caused me.

I just took a lot of words to tell you that, sometimes, a little white lie on behalf of a friend can turn out to be much, much more—and this person isn’t even your friend! I say that you owe them nothing, and that you are perfectly fine to just ignore their correspondence. They probably know they weren’t a good roommate—most bad roommates do, I find—and are literally grabbing at straws to get a good reference. You seem like a pretty nice person. They probably assume you will lie for them out of the goodness of your heart, and I can tell that you really don’t want to. So, don’t! Ask for specifics about the reference—is it for a property management company or a private owner/prospective roommate? If it’s something that would require you to lie, leave it on “read” and sleep well tonight. You don’t owe this person anything.

Need advice? Email advice@flagpole.com, use the anonymous form at flagpole.com/getadvice, or find Bonita on Twitter: @flagpolebonita.

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