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identity photoIt’s tempting to think that once a seemingly good tenant passes the credit check, signs a lease and moves in, your rental property is on autopilot until the end of the lease.

Unfortunately, that’s what some tenants are hoping you will believe–so they can turn your property into a crime scene right under your nose.

But the consequences of landlord inaction are too severe to ignore–police interaction, disputes with neighbors and other tenants, and serious damage to your property.

It’s not easy to determine which tenants will cause problems but it does help to watch for these warning signs that signal your tenant may be up to no good:

A classic sign of criminal activity in your rental property is frequent visitors.  This may include some who only stay for a few minutes, typically while their companions remain in the car.  Neighbors are the best source of information about this habit, and will notice the behavior right away.  They may also report seeing visitors bringing in odd items like electronics which may be used to barter for drugs or sex.

Drug growing operations need water and electricity.  A sudden spike in water or electrical usage could signal a problem.  Other tenants may start complaining of water pressure issues, or neighbors may be complaining about bright lights at night or strange noises like humming motors or fans.  Also, check periodically for tampering around meters.  If the windows are blacked out during the day, that doubles the concern.

Seeing different occupants than those you rented to is a bad sign.  The best way for a criminal to elude police is to have someone else apply and sign the lease–someone who appeared appropriate.  Be wary if your ideal tenant drops out of sight and someone new answers the door.

Be concerned about the tenant who dodges interactions with you–suddenly wants to pay the rent off-site or refuses to answer your messages.

Falling behind on the rent also can be a sign that your tenant has abandoned the property, leaving behind a crime scene that must be rehabilitated before a new tenant can move in.

A landlord should be prepared to act quickly at the first sign of trouble in order to get the problem tenant evicted and the property back on the market.

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

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your rental housing investment, including rental forms, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at

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  • Betty Guleyan

    Wow, I have a tenant like this. How does one prove the amount of traffic that has increased on the premises since his tenancy. Other tenants have communicated this verbally but no one wants to put it in writing as they have great fear.

    I do suspect illigal activity, but how can I prove that in court ?

    The actual teanant is never seen on the property, we have had a very hard time serving him. How do I prove that in court ?

    We have a UD in place but he is claiming a counter suit, anyone have any feedback. He is dodging us, he is behind on rent and his unit is all blacked out.

    Any advise ?

  • brassservices

    Process servers are paid to serve process and can attest to their efforts as being completed, reasonable or extraordinary. Pay them for their professional services, and use certified mail with return receipt and signature on delivery at all times. Take pictures with a digital camera every time you post something on his door; bring the local newspaper and hold it up as added proof in the photo of which day you are posting notice on the door. Keep a log of you observations and have your staff do the same; don’t target the individual, just keep a general log of the facilities and include his “guests”.

  • My question is I have a tenant that did not provide all of their deposit at move-in; told me that I would receive within the week . Now it has been over 2 months; can be very nasty when I question about the deposit. I have sent her notifications keeps saying I will give but does not. It is only a $100 but it still is money not received. Can you provide any input for a situation like this. I appreciate any help you can provide. Thanks

  • Kimberly

    Rhonda, give them a 30 Day Notice. If they don’t pay up and are nasty to you, it will never get better and the longer they are in your place the more damage can be done. DO NOT GIVE IN TO INTIMIDATION! Some tenants look for people they can dominate and scare. It’s your rental, your money that will be lost if you don’t set them straight. If you can’t do it, hire a management company who can.

  • Kimberly


    You either hire someone to watch the place or you get a neighbor to let you watch from their home. Keep a list of visitors and their lic plates if you can. If the visitors only stay a few minutes (one person runs in and out) your property is most likely a drug buy house–especially if there are several of these types of visitors in a short time period. Gather all the info you can and give it to the police. Also, if you are a praying person, PRAY. If they are making the junk in your place it could be contaminated. DON’T WAIT. Take care of this PRONTO!

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