10 Tenant Red Flags to Keep an Eye Out For

Want to avoid renter issues? Keep an eye out for these 10 tenant red flags and reduce your risk of choosing bad tenants.

Tenants who pay their rent on time and look after your investment property are gold. But you might have to sift through a lot of rubble first before you find them. It’s a good idea to have rigorous screening techniques in place, and look out for these tenant red flags to reduce the risk of choosing a bad tenant.

Keep in mind that not every red flag is obvious, so you’ll have to use your common sense and instincts. If you sense there are tenant warning signs, it’s best not to go there.

1. Not Enough Income

Asking applicants for their payslips may seem like prying, but when it comes time to pay rent you’ll be glad you did. All property managers ask for proof of income, because why would you lease to someone who can’t afford it? It’s got eviction written all over it.

A potential tenant needs to be able to afford rent every week, not just the first week they move in. Ideally you’re looking for someone with an income 2.5 to 3 times the cost of the rent.

2. They Are Currently Unemployed

Don’t fall into the trap of listening to sob stories about bad luck and job applications being unfairly rejected. If they haven’t got a job, they can’t pay rent, period. Don’t lease to them.

3. Bad Credit Score

A bad credit score should send up a red flag for two reasons. One, it indicates that this person has defaulted on credit card, loan or rent payments in the past. Two, it suggests they’re a risky prospect for future rent payments.

Look at the evidence in front of you and read the tenant warning signs. Renting to anyone with less than a 620 FICO credit score is asking for trouble.

4. They Have a Prior Eviction


This is one of the biggest tenant red flags to look out for! An eviction is the biggest renter misdemeanor there is. Landlords don’t evict tenants unless it was for something really serious, like non-payment of rent, drugs or damage of property. Do you really want to put this person in your property? No!

5. They Have a Criminal Record

Someone who has a criminal record likes to live outside the law. Although people can be arrested and released later, being convicted of a crime and having it on your record is a different story. It’s publicly available information for landlords to view as part of their applicant screening checks.

You may be of the opinion that they’ve done time for the crime, but it depends what the crime was. Domestic violence? DUI? Theft? It’s best to steer clear.

6. Glowing Landlord References

A tenant who’s had a bad experience with a prior landlord isn’t going to ask them for a reference. They’re going to get a friend or relative to pretend to be one. References that seem too good to be true can be a potential tenant scam.

Always follow up with previous landlords for the real story, and to find out if they’re genuine. Ask questions such as - was the rent was always paid on time? Did they receive their whole deposit back? Did they terminate their lease early?

7. Lying on the Application

What if you find out the applicant has lied on their application? Maybe they’ve faked their income or references or given a false employment history? There’s no second chance on this one, you can’t do business with someone you don’t trust.

8. The Application is Incomplete

Receiving an incomplete tenancy application is a big red flag. If the reason is they couldn’t be bothered filling it in, they might not be bothered to pay you rent! Perhaps they felt uncomfortable filling out certain sections, which begs the question - what are they hiding? You’ll find out if you sign them up as renters. Best not to be curious, and move on.

9. They Seem High Maintenance

If a potential tenant is difficult to deal with or demanding from the outset, it doesn’t bode well for them being a good tenant. They’re likely to try and make you bend to their will in every issue that arises, from rent, to plumbing. Save yourself a future headache.

10. Looking to Move in Quickly

If someone wants to move in straight away, it may not be a good thing. Why are they keen to move in so quickly? Did they leave their current landlord in the lurch and skip off without notice? It pays to do a little digging and find out what’s going on, before you go ahead and sign them up.

The reason might be fine, for example, they’ve just moved into town. But it’s one of the tenant warning signs you shouldn’t ignore. When it comes to renters you need to gather as much information as you can before you make such an important decision. After all, if you ignore the red flags, it’s your rental income that will be affected.

About the Author

Angela Pearse is a blogger for Zumper who frequently combines travel with freelance writing. She’s passionate about Art Deco hotels, historical novels, Netflix, hiking and healthy living.