In addition to a thorough background and credit check, choosing the right tenant involves acute observation during the interview process and following gut instinct.  There are numerous “tells” you can watch for that will clue you in to possible issues before you extend an offer to rent.  Here are just five potential red flags to consider:

  1. Tardiness and Excuses
    If an applicant is late to their viewing appointment and their excuse seems uncaring or made up, this may indicate a lack of ability to take responsibility for their mistakes.  If excuses come easily to them, be prepared to face the same tactic if damage to your property occurs, or if you call them out on not having cleaned up their unit when they move out.  This may also be a sign that they are totally unaware of how their actions are affecting others – not necessarily the attitude you want from someone that you expect to take care of your rental while they are living in it.  It is inevitable people will make mistakes, but how they handle them can tell you a lot about their character.
  2. Over-Questioning the Background/Credit Check
    Be very wary of individuals who make grandiose statements about a background check or credit check being a “sham” or a “lie.”  A tenant has every right to question a particular item on their report, asks for a copy of the report, or request time to talk to the screening company – those are signs that the tenant is engaged, not problematic.  However, if they are trying to toss out the entire report as invalid, or are spending a lot of time telling you that background checks are meaningless or made up, chances are that they are actually trying to cover something up.  Keep in mind that responsible tenants know they need to be screened, and if there’s a problem, they will want to work quickly to resolve it, rather than wasting time complaining.
  3. Frequent Moves
    Unless your tenant is in the military, or has a steady job that frequently requires them to change location, a tenant that moves frequently could be a major red flag.  It may indicate either a problem paying rent or a disregard for lease terms (early termination).  In either event, it could mean extra time and expense for you.  Asking for the length of time they’ve lived at each previous address can help you determine in advance if an applicant is a higher risk.
  4. Short Timeline
    An applicant that is in a rush may be a sign that they need to secure a new place before dealing with a problem with their current landlord.  The cause for their haste could be something like major damage to the rental unit, attempting to sneak out of a lease early without paying, or even a pending eviction.  If you can’t corroborate their reason for needing to rent immediately, be cautious.  Responsible tenants know when their lease expires and they plan well in advance by searching early.
  5. Advanced Payments
    Unless you have specifically requested they do so, be skeptical of applicants who offer you money to fast-track or bypass part or all of the application process.  Although it may initially be appealing to choose a tenant with cash in hand, they may be trying to distract you from looking in detail at their application.  They may have bad credit or bad references.  Trust in your screening process, and don’t bypass any portion of it just for some extra up-front cash.  Remember, you are looking for someone that is calm and consistent over a long period of time, not someone flashy at the beginning.

Keep an eye out for these behaviors as you take in applications, be sure to properly screen your tenant, and always trust your gut to select tenants that will pay their rent consistently and take care of your unit responsibly.