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Home · Property Management · Tenant Screening : 10 Traits of Terrible Tenants

All it takes is one bad tenant to hijack a years worth of profit.

This hard reality encourages landlords to be extra diligent, screening prospective tenants and looking for the subtle signs that could indicate a potential nightmare in the making.

Here is a list of ten warning signs that could save you a lot of grief:

1. Your prospective tenant does a lousy job filling out the rental application, leaving noticeable gaps, instead of carefully providing accurate and complete information.

2. The tenant is leaving the current rental property mid-lease.

3. They pass off a friend as a landlord reference. Clearly theyre hiding something.

4. The tenant asks if they can pay the rent in cash. Run like the wind from this one!

5. They talk about roommates, but want the lease to be only in their name.

6. The employment history has unexplained gaps, and references are seemingly unavailable.

7. They ask about working on the property, in partial trade for rent.

8. The tenant wants to give you their rent deposit in several payments.

9. Trying to negotiate the rent down to a cheaper price, without a good reason.

10. The information they fill out on their application doesnt match their Previous Address Tenant History (Path).

Of course there are more bad traits, and there are always exceptions. But if you see an applicant with any of these traits, you may want to dig a little deeper.

What is your experience? Do you have any warning signs from your experience? Feel free to share!

With AAOA, landlords have resources at their fingertips. Check out our Landlord Forms page.

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  • CC

    When asking for a reference from a previous landlord, don’t ask the current landlord as they may say anything to get them out of their property.

  • Katherine Swafford

    Yes, better to speak to the previous landlord instead of the current one.
    Also I have received pertinent information from their personal reference and also their emergency contact (often a relative). It’s amazing what they will tell you…..KS

  • Lisa

    After 14 years of showing apartments, here are some other red flags…

    Prospective Tenant is not interested in looking at the apartment/doesn’t care what it looks like

    Prospective smokes or eats WHILE they look at the apartment. I had someone put their cigarette out in my kitchen sink once! Another person dripped popcorn all over my floor. Slobs!

    The prospective’s clothes or car smells like pot smoke!

    Prospective has to wait until payday to come up with the $20 for the application fee (means tenant is paycheck to paycheck type of person, likely with no savings or emergency money)

    Prospective has no checking or savings account (this means they keep all their money in cash and are likely not to have any type of emergency fund)

    Prospective Tenant can’t seem to remember where they lived in the last year or two or for how long. Most likely they either have moved around so much they can’t remember, or they are trying to hide bad addresses from you.

    They have an address on their paystub or driver’s license they don’t list on their application. Usually it means they don’t want you to notice these addresses because they owe money there.

    Prospective has had a string of break ins at previous apartments. Certainly theft can happen to anyone, but often this might signal that they have people over they don’t trust or know well. Most breakins are because someone knows what is in the home. It may be a sign that breakins will happen at your place too!

    Prospective comes to view the apartment with a large group of friends. Certainly having a friend come along to share opinions with while apartment shopping, but bringing 3 or more people seems to be an indicator that the person will constantly have lots of guests over and party.

    Prospective make lots of negative comments about their current or previous landlord, esp. about how terrible the maintenance is or how rude their landlord is, etc. I know there are some bad landlords out there, but usually this is a sign that the prospective has bad relationships with landlords and typically uses this as an excuse to not pay rent. Also is predictive of their future relationship with you if you choose them!

    Prospective tenant mentions how they sued past landlords or put their rent on escrow. Certainly this is their legal right to do so, but litigious tenants are not fun! And again this means that they most likely have not had good relationships with past landlords and most likely will not have a good one with you!

  • I had an experience with a tenant who came from a real estate agency. But at the signing of the lease he paid everything in money orders! I know that sounds good because the money is available, but a bank check is just as good. He continued with me for a few years always paying with cash and always late! I had evicted him once and he paid all the arrears in cash, of course. He had his own truck repair business so the cash sort of made sense, but the lateness did not. I had no qualms about charging him a $200.00 late fee, and he always paid it. Until one time he was REALLY late. He was supposedly on his way back from out of state and always used a cell phone, even at home. One night I got a call from his dog walker who found my court eviction notice on the front steps, opened, I believe. Spo she felt free to look at it and call me. she announced she was standing in David Hughs’ empty kitchen!!! so overnight he became a “midnight mover” and suddenly everything was clear. I lost about a month’s rent and thankfully there was a month and a half security deposit available to me. I don’t understand why he couldn’t just tell me he was moving out. He had been saying he was going to move and then decided not to. then suddenly he’s gone. I got better paying tenants till suddenly they became a problem too. A group of friends got together and moved in. Then one would move out and they’d get another to replace him. Unbeknownst to me. Then there would be fighting and arguments among them and you get the allies and the axis countries living together. They finally moved out but one girl who moved out early wanted her security deposit back. I told her to go pound sand. When they finally left they left the place a complete mess! They ended up owing me money. Now I have a nice family living there. sometimes there are money issues but everything is worked out and hopefully it will stay that way. I hope I didn;t bore anyone too much with my story. I have more if anyone’s interested! I think I could write a book. Nonfiction!

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