This article was posted on Sunday, Sep 01, 2013

One of the most popular questions of the week at was “What tip offs do you all use to spot those “probably impossible” types before they get into your units?” Your own experiences must have given you quite a few tell tale tip offs that there will most likely be trouble and it is always easier to avoid these applicants than deal with them after they are in your places. Several landlords nationwide revealed MANY tip offs.

1)      If they show up in suits

2)      If they offer you free stuff

3)      Cash on the spot

4)      Flicking cigarettes in my yard

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5)      Kids running through my house like circus freaks

6)      Nit-picking from the start

7)      Screaming in the background during phone interview

8)      CURSING during showing

9)      Wanting to trade repairs for rent

10)  Insulting my place or their current landlord

11)  If you hear the phrase, “I just need a chance”, run away

12)  If they start out by telling me how religious they are that is enough for me.  The true religious people don’t bring it up immediately. It seems to be the con men who do that.

13)  If they say, “I have a Debit Card and I used to have bad credit.”

14)  If they show up late for the appointment and offer no apology for doing so (indicating that it’s normal for them) they are very likely going to be late on paying the rent.

15)  If they say, “Will you work with me?”  My reply is, “I work for myself, I don’t have time to work with other people.”

16)  If they want to start redecorating the home.

17)  If they say that their credit score is a mistake.

18)  If they say, “Money is not an issue.”

19)  If they say, “I get a monthly check and its guaranteed”

20)  If they state that they’re working on paying off previous judgment, (i.e. they’ve made one $50 payment).

21)  Always ask why they’re moving. If they say because their landlord doesn’t fix anything … next!

22)  If they treat viewing the property like a family reunion: Mom, Dad, Grandma, and Aunt Bessie all came along to decide if the place is good enough, and they’re all talking as though they will be living there.

23)  If they say, “I need a place right now, and can move in tomorrow.”

24)  If they are arguing with each other during the showing.

25)  If they seem flustered or jumpy and are nervous.

26)  If they brag about what they had or who they are.

27)  If they are overdressed for the showing.

28)  Had one last night did not want to disclose where he worked in the pre screen telephone interview. His comment: “We can discuss that after I see if I like the place”. He will never know because he will never see it.

29)  If they appear and sound desperate in general.

30)  If they won’t stop calling.

31)  If they won’t take NO for an answer, and have no respect for you, the landlord.

32)  If they have a job but no valid driver’s license due to too many tickets.

33)  If they’re vague about residence history.  I mean, how hard is this?  I can name every address I’ve ever lived at, yet some can’t remember where they lived last year?

34)  I hate it when they are calling for someone else. This is especially bad when a mother is calling for a child she wants out. I had one mother laughing and saying, “I’m ready for her and her brats to move on.” If their own mother does not want them, why should I?

35)  If they don’t look you in the eye.

36)  If they tell stories that are meant to touch your heart.

37)  If they claim that their landlord appreciates all the little repair jobs that they do to the rental.

38)  If they have beat up cars. Not old, beat up. There is a difference.

39)  Here’s a tip off we learned from Mr. Landlord years ago:  Have a space on your rental application for “Lawyer’s Name”. If the potential tenant completes this question … it means they’re no stranger to litigation.  They’ve been though the courts before for criminal defense, civil defense (likely from a previous landlord) or civil offense (also likely against a previous landlord).  Any potential renter that knows their lawyer’s name has obviously been a problem for someone else already … don’t make them your problem tenant.

40)  We use direct debit with to collect rent. One of our screening questions is whether they have a bank account and are OK with direct debit.

41)  If they call about your unit from a hotel room, or say that they are looking for a “fresh start”. RUN.

42)  If they do not have their own phone.

43)  If a prospective resident calls you unprofessional because you refuse to answer any more time-consuming, senseless questions and don’t have time to spend on the phone with a person who clearly isn’t interested in the property.

44)  If they say they are next up to get a Section 8 voucher. It never seems to happen.

45)  “Have you had any trouble with the law?” I asked a seedy looking prospect.  “Armed Robbery – nothing violent!” they said.  I just told him he should straighten things out before considering anything contractual.  Needless to say, I never saw him again.

46)  One tip: From their application we already know where they live now. If not too far away, drive by their present living quarters. How do they keep the yard? Are there ruts in the grass where they, or their guests, have parked?

47)  Some landlords I know ask outright to view the interior of where they now live. It’s a bit of a bold move, but I have never been denied the opportunity. What they think is great may not be what I think is great. How much have their children painted the walls with adhesive stickers and crayons? And if you don’t want to ask them to see their present quarters, you can at least drive by. You’ll be surprised often, and get a feeling as to whether to take them on to use/abuse your property. Some will treat it like a home; some will act as if they are living in a barn.

48)  While there are obvious tip-offs that a tenant is trouble, you really never know –  never. Exercise caution and due diligence, but then have an air-tight lease. If they  earn enough, have good credit, no court history, and their situation makes logical sense, an application with enough info to track them down or garnish wages is like an insurance policy. And a lease that specifies what breaks a month-to-month lease and is grounds for eviction is helpful. You are protected and they have reason to fear messing up. A real “probably impossible” tenant can put on a good show.  Even if  their application falls somewhat short, a good lease still holds.

49)   Nit picking, balking on application fee, asking about how much is the late fee, andnot having all funds upfront.

50)  If they show up not prepared to move-in and meet qualifications, they are not serious.

Bonus Tip 51) This is a good list of yellow warning flags; be ever vigilant and protect your business, BUT learn to separate positives from negatives:

  • Parents or friends calling/ coming to showing COULD be a very good sign.
  • Can I paint” is normal. Today’s fashion trends are about COLOR. LISTEN to your prospects. Maybe they are telling you your place is BORING.
  • Every night, our prospects and residents are hit with multiple commercials from paint companies and HGTV shows. Lowes recently ran an Internet commercial showing a happy couple putting purple paint on their ceiling. Thanks at lot!
  • From a good applicant these questions can indicate a feeling of ownership.
  • Be professional. Give EVERYONE an application to avoid being sued for discrimination.
  • Screen professionally and thoroughly. Current in-home visit is the best. Base acceptance on FACTS, not comments.
  • Pro deadbeats know this same list and will slide right past you.
  • They are clients, not friends. They are not marrying my daughter nor do I invite them over for Sunday dinner.
  • Many PITA residents are that way due to poor management. Weak landlords, weak lease, weak procedures. Set the ground rules and stick to them.
  • Yes, know they can sue you for discrimination based on religion for the “God Bless” remarks posted here or on Facebook. That might not win but it will cost thousands of $$$ and years to defend yourself.


The above tips are shared by regular contributors to the popular Q and A forum. To receive a free sample of Mr. Landlord newsletter, call 1-800-950-2250 or visit their informative Q&A Forum at, where you can ask landlording questions and seek the advice of other rental owners 24 hours a day.


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