Finding Quality Tenants: Winning Through Intimidation

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One of the best business books ever written is Winning Through Intimidation by Robert Ringer. If you want to become a successful investor, buy the book. You see, far too many people don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable and are often too nice.

In most aspects of your business this won’t hurt you too badly. But there’s one part of your business where you can’t afford to be too ‘nice’ because it will come back to bite you and probably cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in the process.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m referring to finding tenants for your property. How often have you had a prospective tenant promise, that if you’ll just let them move into the house today, they will give you half of the money now and half next week?

Or, how often have you had a tenant tell you that their bankruptcies and credit problems in the past were not their fault, it was their ex-wife’s and if you’ll give them a chance they’ll always pay on time. And the list goes on and on.

I can pretty much guarantee you…

That 99% of the time letting a tenant into your property who does not meet your rental guidelines will come back to haunt you. You don’t have guidelines you say? Surprisingly, many landlords don’t, and this is why many landlords end up thinking the rental business is difficult.

So what are some guidelines to follow? Well, anyone over the age of 18 has to fill out a rental application. And you must see a valid driver’s license from all applicants. Also – this is where the intimidation part comes in – before you give someone an application you should tell them your guidelines and be very firm about it.

You should say…

That your company will bend over backwards for its tenants and be the best property managers they’ve ever had. However, anyone who rents a property must be screened, have a clean criminal background (excluding traffic tickets), a credit score of 620 or more, proof of a job using the last 3 months pay stubs, proof of a checking or savings accounts using the last 3 months bank statements, and so on.

You want to give this speech to people before they end up filling out an application so you don’t waste their time and yours. Believe it or not, there will be a lot of people who after you give this speech will tell you “let me take this application home with me and think about it, I don’t think I want to fill it out today.” Of course, you never hear from these folks again.

But that’s the point of the speech. You need to ‘intimidate’ the bad tenants so they go rip off another landlord. And quality tenants won’t be intimidated by your guidelines because they’re good honest people who intend to pay rent on time and take care of your property.

Photo: Jason Hargrove

About Author

Jason R. Hanson is the founder of National Real Estate Investor Month and the author of “How to Build a Real Estate Empire”. Jason specializes in purchasing properties “subject-to” and has purchased millions of dollars worth of property using none of his own cash or credit.


  1. Yes, yes, yes!! Tenant screening is one of the most neglected areas, even by so-called professionals. It’s very tempting when the cute girl with puppy-dog eyes promises to pay you the security deposit next week, but my experience tells me you’ll lose nine times out of ten. Although I don’t believe I’ve actually made this mistake ten times, but that’s beside the point.

    I attach a tenant screening checklist to the front of my applications so every applicant knows exactly what I’m looking for. I also explain certain rules: rent can’t be more than 30% of their income, they must have worked locally for the last three months (we get a lot of transient workers that change their mind or lose their job quickly), and I must have a reference from a former Landlord or proof of home ownership. I also meet them in person at least once because that tells me a lot.

    The bottom line: I would rather leave a place empty for a few more weeks than to fill it with someone that will likely cause more problems down the road. Great article!

  2. Lucky Larson on

    Great advice for would-be landlords!

    I would also add that I use a dedicated phone line just for rentals. I have a 60-second message that mentions the details of the rental unit like address, schools nearby, condition of the interior and weather pets or smoking are allowed. I then spell out the application process including first and last month’s rent and minimum qualifications for credit and job. Then I ask callers to leave a message if they would like to see the unit and pick up an application. This simple message saves hours of time answering the same questions over and over while letting callers screen themselves.

  3. Peter Haymond on


    I read Ringer’s book two years ago and I’ve interacted with authors who personally know him. Excellent book but I also like “Action! Nothing happens until something moves” and “Looking out for #1” more. I was fortunate to grow up in a family where my parents did tenant screening on a regular basis so this is what I knew as a 5 year old growing up in the 90’s lol. Good read though!

  4. Valid points. I suppose I use intimidation by providing a very detailed application and requiring potential renters to supply me with a copy of their current credit report…I get very few applications back and that IS the point. All payments must be in advance. Create an incentive for on-time tenants by offering $25 off their rent if paid on or before the due date and have a larger late penalty if not paid within the 5 day grace period.

    • Mike, there are many different ways to skin a cat and I’m just going to point out my techniques. I’m not trying to nay-say yours so please don’t take it that way! I thought of providing an incentive for tenants to pay on time, but the more I think about it the more I disagree with the practice. I’m supposed to feed and care for my son; I don’t get a bonus whenever I do it. When Tenants do what they’re supposed to, according to the agreement they signed, the reward is that they don’t get punished with late fees. I don’t see why I should pay out of my pocket or the owners for compliance. I am, however, still thinking of providing a small gift card for tenants for six months straight of timely payments.

      I also don’t charge big late fees. In fact, I currently charge just $5 a day (I’ll up it to $10 soon). Why? I’m glad you asked! First, late fees start on the 5th. Around the 10th I contact any late tenants to remind them they are late and what late fees they’ve incurred. I usually find 1-2 that simply forgot and a couple with no excuse or a really lame excuse. On the 15th I post an eviction notice. I give the Tenant three calendar days to pay everything in full or I move them out. This system works very well. The Tenants appreciate the small fines when they’re occasionally late and I don’t keep habitually late Tenants around long enough for them to cause me big problems.

      When I bought my company, about 50% of all Tenants paid after the 5th and weren’t charged late fees. Nearly 15% regularly paid after the tenth. After six months, I had fewer than 8% paying after the grace period on the 5th and 1% paying after the tenth. I attribute this to training my tenants on the policy and applying the policy fairly and consistently. This negates the need for rewards or heavy punishment, at least in my office.

    • Yes I am with the incentive and hefty late fees. I stress that on the rental app and lease. If the rent is not paid on the 1st, a reminder notice goes out that afternoon with the regular rent is before the 5th and all late fees after the 5th.

      You hate to be negative but I emphasize rent on time, late fees, and eviction filing status. Gotta do it.

  5. Alright Nathan and Thank you. I think I’ve got it but just to nail this down you are saying….
    50,000 gross ann salary / 12 = 4,166 x .30 = They can afford $1,250 monthly rent.

    With great references, history, etc….
    50,000 gross ann salary / 12 = 4,166 x .35 = You might let them go up to $1,458 monthly rent.

    • You’ve got it! I get applications all the time from people trying to rent units that cost up to 60% of their monthly gross. Even if they had no car payment, credit card debt, etc., it would take very little for them to fall behind and default on rent.

  6. Great information. My bottom line is use everything stated previously for screening, but also check information on the internet, zabasearch, and county court records. Check and call all previous landlords for past 5 years (have a space on app. for county property was located) and make sure the stated landlord really owns the property and not just relatives with different last names. This can be cross referenced by tax records and proved by asking owners something obscure like what year property was built, tax id #, or name of grade school nearby or subdivision to check their credibility. You’ll find quite often relatives (blood or by marriage) are listed as bosses, landlords or references. Due diligence will intimidate shady renters.

  7. Another comment: I’ve always told tenants about my screening process, but didn’t show it to them in writing. Now I have a cover page on every application that clearly explains some guidelines and automatic disqualifiers. It also explains what happens after they are approved. I end it with a statement that they authorize me to complete the credit/criminal background and contact references in case I need to fax someone a permission slip.

    I also put a laminated copy of this document on my desk. If someone walks in and wants to know how I screen (tenant or potential owner looking for a PM) they can read it before I hand them an application.

    I don’t act tough or bare my fangs. I simply show them that I have standards and will hold to them. It scares off quite a few people but it keeps me from wasting time or reduces the number of problem applicants.

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