Property Management Blog

When Tenant Screening, Watch Out for These Warning Signs!

Sometimes finding the right tenant is a process of elimination — weeding out the applicants who are likely to make bad tenants.

It’s costly and time-consuming to get rid of problem tenants. Don’t take the gamble when it comes to turning over the keys to one of your most prized possessions — your rental property.

Here are some warning signs of applicants you may want to toss back:

1. Lack of income for the property. Hope springs eternal for some candidates as they juggle multiple bills but want to get into their dream property. Set standards for needed income, or face the possibility of chronically late rent payments.

2. A dangerous criminal history. Always check applicants’ criminal history, and avoid those with a violent past or crimes that could damage your property. That puts you and your property at immediate risk, as you may be sued for subsequent injuries or held to account for drug or other criminal activities on the property.

3. A prior eviction. These applicants might as well be wearing a sign that says, “I don’t care about ripping you off.” They are people who defaulted on their lease but would not make good on it by moving out voluntarily. Evictions kill profits, and you can’t afford to take the risk.

4. Bad credit. Always check tenants' credit history to see how they manage their money. Many landlords set a standard score threshold, or, you could look for bad signs like late payment history.

5. Incomplete application. Those who won’t fill out the complete rental application should be turned away. It’s a sign of false identity, a bad history, or just plain apathy. Whatever the reason, they are not the right applicants for you.

6. Needy, demanding. If your very first interactions with applicants leave you wanting to pull out your hair, just imagine what it will be like when they have a legal right to the property. 

Save yourself the headaches.

7. References are negative or defensive. Read between the lines when a reference has little to say about the candidate, so long as that information is relevant to the rental relationship. Be specific about questions you ask other landlords. Pin them down about potential problems that may be repeated.

8. Planning to move mid-lease. If the rental application shows the applicants are looking for a place well in advance of their expected lease termination, they may repeat the pattern. Find out more before you get into trouble.

9. Not likely to follow your rules. If you smell cigarette smoke on applicants who are renting a non-smoking unit, or they are covered in cat hair but swear they don’t own a pet, you have a problem. Casual liars make bad tenants.

10. Too many occupants. You have to follow the law when it comes to local zoning. So do the tenants. Be on guard for the bait-and-switch —tenants who rent in their name, then move in all of their friends. Speak with other landlords, and apply common sense. A word of caution: Don’t reject families with children on occupancy unless you are sure you have met the standards of the Fair Housing Act and your state’s discrimination laws.

Source: American Apartment Owners Association. Find out more at