10 Ways to Know If a Renter is Going to Screw You

If you have rental properties, there is nothing more difficult than finding good renters. Find out what questions to ask in the screening process and soon you will have model renters in your properties.

Doing a credit check and checking references is not a guarantee that you are going to pick a good renter. The fact is, a potential renter is never going to give you a bad reference. They would sooner supply you with a pre-selected friend’s phone number, and that friend is going to lie and tell you whatever they think you want to hear. The same goes with a potential employer. As far as credit goes, there are very few people who have excellent credit these days since the majority of the population does not know what it takes to maintain excellent credit.

Most people assume that closing a credit card is good for their score when in actuality, closing a credit card will drop your score drastically. Therefore, unless you are planning on closely analyzing every item on their report and fully understand how to do this, you will not have any success in selecting a good renter. Instead, use these trick questions to pull the truth from potential renters and make the correct selection for your property. If they do not pass the following test questions, do not take a chance on them. They will screw you over the first chance they get.

  1. How long have you worked for your current employer?

    This question will reveal a lot about your applicant. If they have worked with their current employer for less then a year, there is a good possibility that they may not be working there for much longer. Be very wary of anyone who has only been at their job for a couple months because if they get fired or quit, they will not care enough about you to make the rent on time.

  2. How long did you work at the job before your current employer?

    Again, this question reveals a lot. If they were at their previous employer for less then a year, this person has a hard time staying at a job. It is a strong indication that they will not be a reliable selection. Steer Clear. Stick to people who have worked at their current jobs for more then a year since they will be fully aware of all the good and bad factors related to their jobs, and will be more likely to keep their job.

  3. How long have you lived at your current residence?

    If they have not lived at their current residence for long, they will not live at your residence for very long. Your goal is to find someone who will be there for a long time and take care of your property. Moving again in a short period of time is a guarantee that this is person will be gone before the dust settles. Look for someone with longevity.

  4. Why are you moving?

    No matter how long the person has lived at their current address, there is a reason they are moving. By asking this question, you are going to find out their side of the story. If they had problems with the previous landlord, they are going to embellish those problems. They are going to tell you every bad thing that landlord ever did. What this really means is that your applicant is going to cause problems for you. They are going to complain about every little thing and give you one heck of a headache. Look for renters who are moving because they need to be closer to work or because they want a bigger place. These renters are usually less trouble.

  5. Are you able to pay the first month’s rent and deposit today?

    If they give you an excuse as to why they need time, they will give you an excuse when it comes time to pay the rent. Do not negotiate. If they do not have the money now, they will not have it later.

  6. Do you have a current pay stub to verify employment?

    When they show you a paystub, this gives you the opportunity to verify two things. First, you will see that they do work where they said. Second, you will see exactly how much money they made year-to-date as well as how much they make per pay period. This will let you know if they can really afford paying the rent. Give preference to renters who make more then double the rent.

  7. Have you had any credit problems that i should know about?

    Whether you pull a credit report or not, by asking this simple question, your potential tenant is going to volunteer every bad thing they can think of related to credit. More often then not, they do not know what is on their credit report or understand why they have the score they do, so they will overcompensate to sell you on their worthiness. Listen carefully because whatever they tell you will let you know how well they manage their financial responsibilities. Anyone who has nothing to say probably has nothing on their report, and quite possibly will be a good risk.

  8. Have you ever been evicted?

    If a person has been evicted, RUN. This means that the renter knows enough about the law to take advantage of renter’s rights. If you have to evict them, they will stay put until the very last day. You will spend a ton of money and energy trying to force them out of your property, and in the meantime, they will sit there and not pay you a dime.

  9. Have you ever taken a landlord to court?

    Again, if they have been involved in a legal dispute with a landlord, they will cause trouble for you as well. They know enough about the law to sue someone in a court of law, and they know enough about the law to make you miserable. Do not choose someone who has been in a legal battle with a landlord. Instead, look for the renter who will just leave before things go bad.

  10. Who will be living in the unit?

    This question is important. Look closely at everyone who will be living there because they will be causing just as much damage as any other renter. The more people living there, the faster the damage will occur. Generally, you want a small family with younger children, preferably girls. With a small family, your tenants will be less likely to move anytime soon. With girls, you have a better chance of the place remaining clean. Male teenagers and male college students tend to cause more destruction then any other demographic, so if you have an option that does not include this group, give preference to them. This will not only save you on the cleanup costs, but it will also save you on repairs.

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RSSComments: 23  |  Post a Comment
  1. Erica…this is a great refresher for those of us who deal with rentals, especially the one about who will be living in the unit. Needless to say, I have had experience with that one. Thanks for this list. I plan to keep it handy.

  2. Thank you Ed. I really hope you are able to use it.

  3. My son is a landlord. I will pass this on, and I know firsthand that these are good tips. Thank you.

  4. Straight forward and helpful information, I’ll pass this on

  5. Interesting.

  6. very informative info. thanks!

  7. it is ILLEGAL to refuse to rent to a family simply because they have sons instead of daughters. Someone needs to read up on land lord tenant laws. It’s called discrimination based on familial status.

  8. and further more just because a potential tenant sued a former land lord it doesn’t mean they will be a bad tenant for you. If a tenat sued a land lord because the land lord wouldn’t fix a septic system that had back flowed by no fault of the renter and made the hopme unihabitble but still demanded rent. Then obviously the land lord was a slum lord and had the land lord kept to THEIR responsibilties it wouldn’t have occured. A suit against a land lord isn’t doesn’t always make the land lord the victim he may well be the perpetrator.

  9. To Informed,

    I am fully aware that it is illegal to discriminate based on gender. I am not saying DON’T rent to them. I am saying that this may not be your preferred tenant. I speak from experience as I had renters with male teenagers who brought their friends around and caused destruction to the condo complex they were living in. One even stabbed a knife through a neighbor’s car window. Guess who the neighbor went after for the money…not them.

    Also, I have no problem fixing anything my tenants need. However, I have found that people who have been in a lawsuit before with a landlord become a pain in the rear when it comes to money. They don’t tell you something is broken until it’s time to pay the rent, and then they withhold the rent until you fix it. Some things can’t be fixed overnight. Also, when you try to get them to move out, they will stay put and make you serve them and get the police involved if they decide you are wrong. This can cost you a ton of money in unpaid rent and serving costs. It is a potential headache no matter how you look at.

    I’m sorry if this article pisses you off, but these suggestions are made to help people realize that some of these questions can bring potential problems to light before a renter is chosen.

  10. Good article. One thing that you could add that came up with my property is names…. I was given the maiden name and not the previous married name of the applicatnt/tenant. So when I did the credit check it did not reveal the evictions under the other name. I learned a lesson on that one.

  11. Most of this article is a crock and would be offensive to anyone.

    #4) If someone complains about their landlord, more often than not, the landord is not doing their job. This does not make the tennant will “complain about every little thing and give you one heck of a headache.” And guess what? Even if that were the case, SO WHAT?! People are paying hard-earned money to live at your apartment complex and should expect their living environment to be up to par! How sad that the poor little landlord should have to put up with a tennant in need of something! Poor landlord has to do their job, darn it. Give me a break.

    #9) “if they have been involved in a legal dispute with a landlord, they will cause trouble for you as well. They know enough about the law to sue someone in a court of law, and they know enough about the law to make you miserable”

    Again, REALLY?! If they have been involved in a legal dispute it means that you, the landlord, were NOT doing your job and pushed them to this point. Do you really think that anyone wants to have to push it to this point?! This has got to be one of the stupidest things that I have ever read, and I read A LOT!

    Whoever wrote this, and whoever actually abides by this, you really need to get your head out of your underside.

  12. While this list can be seen as cynical, it’s also accurate. If you have your choice of someone who has sued a landlord before and someone who hasn’t, all things being equal you would prefer the one who hasn’t.

    The stuff about gender and whatnot is definitely illegal discrimination, but it’s also impossible to prove. If you pick a tenant who qualifies under all 10 of these criteria over someone who doesn’t, the person who was passed over will never be able to prove that you picked the other person for any unfair reason.

    All in all, an informative list. Thanks!

  13. I sublet the lowersuite out in the house I rent…I have been here 4 years and my landlord says I am his best tenant and he has many properties. I care for the yard, in fact nominated for best summer garden in our community.
    I have taken one or 2 landlords to court…one for not returning my damage deposit…it was ruled in my favor both times. Both landlords had not so much as a car in their personal name…they played by different rules and made a business out of screwing more people than just a mere tenant. Some landlords have no business sense…and have to learn the rules the hard way…at the behest of the tenant.
    My last sub tenant was a nightmare…I had to chase her for everything. Her parents masqueraded as her previous Landlord and altho she signed a contract she had no clue as to her responsibilities, therefore I became the bad guy. She cancelled her last cheque, blew off 2.5 months shared but unpaid utilities and moved out midmonth leaving a mess.
    I was relieved to see her go..and it cost me $1300.00
    Have them name each and every person living in the place on the contract…including each child so you can prove you only rented to the amount of people you understood would be living there. Go to either their place of work or current home address so you can see how they live and ensure it is not some bogus front giving the reference. Some renters use the family address for mailing because they move constantly to avoid their obligations.
    Remember that if you ask them to vacate if you want to move back into the home or sell it, you need to fill out the proper paperwork “Landlord use of Property” You will owe them one months rent for their cost to move.
    If they have been a good long term tenant, paid the rent on time and taken care of your property as if it were their own home…you won’t have any resentment in doing so. It is the cost of doing business.
    Good Landlords and tenants are to be appreciated (mine is the best) because they don’t come along every day.

  14. All of these are great tips. I’m a landlord of multiple properties. So far, I’ve applied all of these questions when selecting tenants and always had good ones. Yesterday I evicted the one and only renter that I hadn’t screened properly,…because he seemed to have a good story, lots of ID and Referrences, a pleasant personality. I let him in before clearing his information and ended up with a HUGE nightmare and hole in my savings. His ID was fake, His Social Security number was fake, his references were bogus and thanks to Google I found out that he’s a Con Artist from the USA.
    Maybe add “Google” their names and phone numbers and employer…just for back up!
    I know I’ve learned my lesson! Wish I would have read this first!

  15. All I can say after reading this is that I WISH I had read it BEFORE renting to my current tenants! They had been evicted years before, “learned their lesson” and wanted to move to a bigger home since they had 2 more kids, now making it a family of 6. They were late on the rent, brought in a dog when the lease CLEARLY states no pets, and when they got a month behind in the rent, they cussed me out for asking for it. I should have seen the fact that they couldn’t come up with the deposit until payday as a sign that they would NOT be good tenants. At this point, I’m tempted to give them one month’s rent for them JUST to get out of the house. To all people reading, please heed this lesson I learned the hard way: an empty unit is BETTER than a unit occupied by a non-paying tenant.

  16. not a comment but a question. how do you feel about renting to tenants who have a dog?

  17. What a selfish and uncaring bunch of BS. What I got from this is, don’t rent to people who know their rights, it just means more hassle for you.

    There is a reason renters have rights, because (some/most) landlords value money over human decency.

  18. It is important that we all understand and exercise our rights but it is also important not to abuse our rights whether we are tenants or landlords. Bad tenants deserve bad landlords and visa-versa and good tenants deserve good landlords and visa-versa. Just like a tenant will scrutinize the property(crime rates of area, appearance of property, cost of utilities, amenities included, type of neighbours, schools, transit, shopping and of course the demeaner of the landlord) to establish whether this property would be a good place to live and worth the cost of their hard earned money, so to must the landlord establish that the tenant, who will become the user and caretaker of his hard earned investment, is the right person with the right attitude and the right attributes for the job of being a tenant. Indeed I look at my prospective tenants as if they were applying for a job. I would rather leave the position vacant than hire the wrong or unqualified person and to hire the right person I must have criteria in place so that I may make an informed decision which includes but is not limited to the above “10 Ways”. In this way I help unite bad tenants with bad landlords. Truly a match made in hell! Just my opinion…

  19. I think this article and the advice it gives is great. For those that say the article is “selfish” or “uncaring” (attn: Angie and Bob), I think it is selfish and uncaring when tenants don’t pay their rent for several months in a row and refuse to move out. By the time you evict a tenant, you have lost a lot of money in court costs and unpaid rent, not to mention damages to the property and unpaid gas and electric bills. We just paid nearly $1000 for a water bill that the tenant did not pay. Here, unpaid water bills have to be paid by the landlord once the tenant leaves the house. Angie – when someone goes to court for an eviction, can you really say “it means that you, the landlord, were NOT doing your job and pushed them to this point”. I mean, come on, let’s take some responsibility here.

  20. @ Erica and Angie. I’m in complete agreement with Angie. About every reason, other than perhaps the credit check, is used to ensure that the landlord can present a poor residence without the worry of doing his/her job. First, Erica, if a tenant has taken a landlord to court for any reason, rarely is at any fault of the tenant. In the occasion that the tenant takes you to court and there was no breach by you, most state laws grant you all court fees and proceeding costs back to you at the tenants expense. The fact is you have some that pay and some who don’t. Just because a group of male teenagers did something to someone’s complex at one point does not mean every teenage boy is going to be the same. If that were the case that would mean that since an adult female committed a crime that you must have, or will, as well. Same thing as racial profiling. Fact is everyone has problems at some point; whether that be financial or otherwise. If you never have or never will, congratulations, you account for about 8 percent of the population. You wouldn’t make very much money if you could only rent to them.

    I think what your title meant to be was “How to find the biggest pushovers to be tenants so you don’t have to be responsible for anything.”

    Just go out and say it. Stop being a coward attempting to rope others into your cowardly ways for some sort of self gratification. Just be an adult and take of your responsibilities. Fix something when its broken. Maybe then you wouldnt have an issue such as this arise when it comes time to pay rent. People are going to do that forever to save some money. and have just cause to do so. Hell your doing it. I don’t see the difference.

    I own some property myself; roughly 75 leased out buildings. I’ll tell you this, I have taken care of my tenants; make sure they rarely, if ever, have an issue. In the fifteen years I’ve been doing this I’ve had 7 issues of neglect, nonpayment, or otherwise. You take care of people, they will take care of you. They wouldn’t have a reason to take you to court if you had fulfilled your end of the contract. In my opinion your the one with the problem not the tenant.

    It’s all about making the quick buck for you, no matter who or how you treat people to get it. Think of it like this: if you treat your wife, husband, family, friends like trash; they won’t be exactly jumping through hoops trying to make you happy.

    “Life without service to others, is not a life worth living”
    Albert Einstein

  21. @ Lucia.

    You wanna know a real quick way to solve that problem?
    1. In your lease, make sure you stipulate that after 10 days, or in your case many months, that rent has not been paid; you will take immediate action to serve them a written notice to vacate or pay. If they don’t pay, evict them. Depending on your state this process could take as little as 7 days, or as much as 30. If you had done your job as a landlord and taken the necessary steps, you wouldn’t have had to deal with the issues you did. Whatever the reason, the lengthy, many month, process was due to your failure to evict in the correct time frame.
    In the case of unpaid utilities, I.e. gas and electric, maybe you shouldn’t include them in your rent. Make their rent a little cheaper; just a little, and make them pay their own utilities. You would actually end up making much more in the short and long run. Let’s say their rent was 80 to 100 less a month, but you no longer cover utilities, now your not paying 200 or more a month for those. You just pocketed 100 or more a month. And that’s just one place.

    These are the result of the choices you make for your business. With making utilities the tenants responsibility, you have now ensured that a tenant has good enough credit and finances for a deposit for that as well, which in turn means your starting to get the demographic your looking for. Now your also not discriminating on age, sex, race, or court history. Your assuring that it falls on that person alone and their mistakes. More than likely if they can’t get utilities or a deposit for utilities, then they aren’t going to want to move in because I’m sure they already know that. And in the states where you are responsible if they can’t, you can legally evict them otherwise for that reason alone; not holding utilities in good standing as stipulated in the lease.

    If your renting in an area where that may or may not be a problem frequently encountered, then the only person you have to blame is yourself for renting property in that area. The fact of the matter is that there are areas in cities or suburbs that are struggling econimically. It’s all good or bad business decisions. You can control that.

    You don’t stick a bag of heroin in front of a recovering addict do you? Same applies here. Make wise business decisions and you wouldnt have as bad of an issue. Every business has a calculated risk that comes with it. That’s what happens to every business owner in some way or another. If you don’t like the responsibility, or can’t handle it, work for someone else then. Do something different. Don’t blame everyone around you for your incompetence or ignorance of your own lease.

  22. Truth is you can control what you do. You can never expect everything is going to always be perfect. People make mistakes and are going to continue to make them. Judging based on some of the things I’ve seen is just ridiculous. Ignorance is probably a word many of you don’t understand. Its gonna happen. You have to live with it. That’s a choice you made when you started your “business”. Post should be called how to screw your tenants. And Lucia, its time you took some responsibility for your choices. You could have avoided quite a bit of that if you would have made some user business decisions.

  23. Although it may be based in fact, be careful with that last one. A landlord is held to strict adherence to non-discrimination policies when renting.

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