Landlords can sometimes get a bad rap for being ruthless, money-driven tyrants. The truth is, many landlords do a great job at keeping their tenants happy and, in return, reap the benefits of these people being taken care of. There is a downside for you as a landlord, though, and that occurs when you have not screened your tenants as well as you should have. Even with a proper screening, bad apples can occasionally sneak through, and that’s why it’s important to know the signs of a bad tenant. Read on for five red flags you need to look out for as a landlord.
1. Bad Landlord References
One of the most important things you can do is to call past landlords, as you want to know their history of payments, how they treated the rental property, etc. If the past landlord tells you there was an extensive history of late payments, damage done to the property, or, far worse, an eviction, this should be a giant “no” in your book. This is particularly true if these have been recent. If the bad behavior was far in the past and they have since had good reports, this is up to your discretion, but still be wary.
2. Bad Credit And/or a Tax Lien
Good Landlord 101 includes running a credit check, as knowing how (or if!) they pay their bills is key in deciding whether or not to let them live on your rental property. How landlords read credit reports is also crucial, so if you’re new to doing so, get some help from a company like TransUnion and do your research. Bad credit is a huge red flag and could indicate that they will have trouble paying their rent—tenant screening can save a huge headache. Of course, if the IRS can’t get money from them (hence the tax lien), how do you expect you will do the same? You definitely do not want a squatter!
As for the nitty gritty of credit numbers, be wary of anyone with a credit score of less than 620. As this GreenResidential.com article notes, “A low credit score can be indicative of many things: problems with budgeting, holding down a job, or taking on too much debt. Whatever the reasons, avoid these tenants at all costs.”
3. Criminal History
You are well within your rights to run a background check on your potential tenants. If your gut instinct tells you that this is a solid person and his or her credit check and references turn out okay, you might consider ignoring any minor offenses. However, someone with a major criminal history is obviously someone you don’t want living under your roof, especially if you have other renters in the vicinity.
4. Gaps in Employment And/or Low Income
Your application should include a pretty extensive list of their past employers and how much they have made at each job. Long gaps in history could be an indication of flakiness and low income. You also want to be wary if they make very little money at their current jobs, as you have to weigh the rent vs. this amount of money. If it doesn’t seem to add up, it’s a red flag. Of course, you could ask that someone co-sign for them so that you have someone to recoup the money from him if you need to. That’s something that’s left to your discretion and many landlords will go with their intuition on this.
5. Awkward Behavior During the Interview and Negotiation Attempts
Again, we can’t stress enough the importance of gut instinct. If the person seems overly nervous during the interview and can’t hold eye contact, it could be a red flag. What are they hiding? If there are gaps on their application and they can’t answer many questions during the interview, they could be hiding be a giant secret (or secrets!).
Attempts at negotiation of monthly rent and/or deposit amount don’t have to be huge red flags, but they’re not great signs either. If you know your rental property is fairly priced, stick to that number. Negotiation could be a sign that they are not able to pay this amount on a regular basis.