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Recognizing the 12 Red Flags when Screen Tenants

Every situation comes down to what you’re comfortable with, but here are some common red flags to look out for and take into consideration before anyone signs on the dotted line.

1. Unsteady jobs or low incomes

I have had applicants state that their income is below or a little above the monthly rent. This is obviously a red flag since this means the applicant quite literally might not have the funds to pay the rent.

2. Low credit scores

This is just one of those take-your-chances situations. I’ve rented to excellent tenants who always paid me on time, and they only had terrible credit because they missed a credit card payment a few years ago. You won’t truly know for sure until tenants have a chance to prove themselves. But remember, low credit is more concerning if the applicant has missed multiple payments within a few years.

3. Applicants who have criminal or eviction records

(This one’s self-explanatory.)

4. Applicants asking to pay the deposit or the first month’s rent AFTER moving into the house

That’s not how you want to start off your tenant-landlord relationship. Sure, it could be a one-time request. But chances are that if they’re attempting to defer payments now, this is still going to be an issue later.

5. Applicants asking if they can work around the house to substitute for rent

Again, if they are asking things like this before they even move into the property, it’s probably indicative of broader financial instability.

6. Applicants who want to move in within the next few days to a week

Why are they in such a hurry? In these kinds of situations, I typically think over the following questions and try to recognize if any of the following negative traits are presenting themselves:

  • Is the applicant sporadic or a poor planner? If he or she does not plan ahead, then you will likely be drawn into situations where you have to react with little to no notice (e.g., their lease is ending soon and they don’t give you proper notice as to whether they are going to renew or not).

  • Is it a con? Under certain circumstances, con artists create environments where the pressure is on you to get them into the house (“I have to move in by tomorrow!”), persuading you to sign the lease without collecting the deposit and rent until after they move in. Now you don’t have time to do a thorough background check.

  • Are they not giving enough notice to their current landlord? And if they do it to that particular landlord, why wouldn’t they do it to you too?

7. Applicants who have a history of moving around a lot

Every landlord’s dream is to buy a house and rent it out to one awesome tenant forever. But, if we can’t have forever, then we want an awesome tenant to live in the house for a long time. Why does it matter? When tenant turnover occurs, landlords often incur expenses, so we want the least amount of turnover. That is why when a tenant shows a history of moving, say every six months to a year, you have to acknowledge that this might happen with you too.

8. Applicants who tell you their situation to gain sympathy, such as critical medical conditions, etc.

Some people simply overshare with no ulterior motive. Others use this tactic when trying to negotiate rent, lease terms, or other details to their advantage. So just be aware and use your best judgment here.

9. Young couples in their early 20s moving in together for the first time ever

You know the drill. When you’re young, you barely even know how to spell “long-term relationship.” But you want to rent a place with your boyfriend or girlfriend and repaint the house because you’ve never rented your own home before. The question is if they ever break up, who is going to stay and pay the rent?

10. Applicants who could break your hard rules regarding smoking, no pets, etc.

Communicate clear expectations on your non-negotiable house rules before anything is signed (this goes back to making sure you have an airtight lease). That way, if you do rent to them and an issue comes up, you have some sort of recourse.

11. Applicants who can’t produce paperwork and keep finding excuses.

Same principles as #4 and #5.

12. Needy tenants

Tip: you can typically tell if someone is needy when they sign the lease because they want to go over every single word before the lease is signed.


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