The Ultimate Comprehensive List of Tenant Red Flags

by |

Do you know what tenant red flags you should be on the lookout for?

When you are screening tenants for your rentals, it is pretty easy. You take an application, submit it to a screening company and wait for the results. You have pre-set tenant selection criteria, and you compare against the criteria. You let all the incoming prospects know what you are screening for, and you let them self-screen as much as possible. After comparing the results to your criteria, if the tenants pass, you accept them. If not, you move on to the next applicant.

Fortunately for investors, many landlords do not perform the easiest part of the land lording process. They take in subpar tenants, let the tenants put undue strain on the property, and they trade deferred maintenance for profit. At some point, the maintenance can no longer be deferred, rent collections suffer, and other investors come to their aid to buy the property for pennies on the dollar.

All tenants have to meet the criteria, not just the financially responsible one. Not every read flag is a deal killer, but some are.  Remember, you want a low-risk tenant to make the highest profit. Generally, all these red flags will show up in a tenants income, or credit score, even if the red flag is unrelated to those two.

Some things that you need to screen for and look for are the following.

Download Your FREE Rental Application Form!

It may seem like a small thing, but having a solid rental application is the first step in finding great tenants. Since BiggerPockets is all about helping you succeed in real estate investing, we’ve put together a complimentary Rental Application for you to use. Download it today and go find some great tenants!

Click Here For Your Free Rental Application

Important Red Flags to Watch Out for When Screening Tenants


Make no mistake, if your tenant does not have enough income, you will be stiffed sooner or later. A larger deposit helps, but will not make the difference between profitability and losing money if you have to evict or cause a move out.

A tenant needs at least 3.5x the rent in income to make it affordable. You need affordable housing. I do not care if you are renting for $5 a month, $10 a month in income is not enough, and the rent is not affordable. On the other hand, you can have an apartment renting for $10K a month, with a tenant making $50K a month, and you have affordable housing.

Income will tell you the tenant’s ability to pay the rent.


Credit Score

If you think that credit score only indicates the risk that a tenant will pay rent, you are going to be disappointed. There are far too many studies linking credit score to risky behaviors. Look at it as more of a personal responsibility score. You can say that a person who doesn’t pay their bills and has a bad credit score has an entitlement mentality. You never want a renter with an entitlement mentality. Do not rent to a tenant that has risky habits unless you want an insurance claim.

Anything less than a 620 FICO credit score would garner a ‘D’ rating. Why take a chance?

Credit score will tell you the tenant’s desire to pay rent and will be an indication of future personal behaviors.

Related: How to Dodge the Bad Tenant Bullet

Criminal Record

Make sure you use a county level criminal check that will gather open and dismissed cases. You want to know everything, including parking tickets.

No one wants a criminal living in their apartment. But what is a criminal, and what do you watch out for? If a tenant has a single domestic violence conviction, I do not want them. If someone will resort to violence, rather than address the situation in a civilized manner, it is a huge red flag. If a victim continues to live with someone that has committed the violence, you have a recipe for disaster.

More than one DUI or other alcohol related conviction is an issue. Some people cannot take the hint. Odds are, the person with two DWIs doesn’t have insurance either. Avoid them.

More Than 3 Convictions in 5 Years

If your applicant has more than 3 convictions for anything other than traffic violations, it is an indication that they cannot obey rules. Do not look for them to obey your lease. This includes any disturbances, DUIs, driving without a license or insurance or worse. Count all cases, including any that are “dismissed with conditions” or similar. I do not count speeding tickets or expired tabs in this category.

Open and/or pending cases should be counted as convictions until they have been completed in their entirety.

More Than 2 “Stops” in the Last 12 months, or More than 5 in 2 Years

I count everything here, including parking tickets, dismissed charges, etc. Any stop or arrest. These individuals continue to act on the “edge” of what is acceptable in society, so the cops pull them over. Maybe what they were doing was legal, but they had a smart mouth and got arrested. Then the prosecutor dropped the charges.

If they have more than 2 speeding tickets in a year, it tells me that the person does not plan ahead and has to drive fast to make up for their lack of planning. Too many parking tickets mean the person doesn’t seem to obey laws or cannot be inconvenienced by them. The people might actually be great tenants if you take them. I prefer to wait until they are clean.

Bad Landlord References

First of all, if this is your main indicator, I laugh at you. Far too many landlords ask tenants to leave, only to give them a great reference. Any tenant that cannot find a friend to pretend they are a landlord and say great things about them, you do not want anyway. But on occasion you get great information.

Was the entire deposit returned? If not, why?

Some small charges are acceptable; not getting most of the deposit back is a huge red flag. Late payments are a problem. Terminating a lease early is a problem. Not giving proper notice is an issue. Move on to someone that understands how to be a renter.

Aggressive or Large Breeds of Dogs

Tenants that own Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Chows, Akitas, any cross breed with wolf, or any mix of the above could be a problem. Odds are, your insurance company doesn’t allow many or all of these types either. There have been studies about what kind of people are likely to own these breeds, and these people tend to favor riskier lifestyles. You do not want those types of people.

I always wonder why a tenant would own a 200 lb. dog. I have turned them down. Wait until you are a homeowner to own an English Bull Mastiff.

More people probably get bitten by Chihuahuas than other breeds, but they do not get killed by them. Make no mistake, the nature of the dog is built into the breed, all an owner can do is depress it or enhance it. If you are going to get killed by a dog, there is a near 70% chance it will be a Pit Bull or Rottweiler. You will have a difficult time teaching a Pomeranian to fetch a duck; you will also have a difficult time keeping a Pit Bull from killing with the right set of stimuli. Far too many young toddlers are killed by their own family Pit Bull, and the kid did nothing wrong except act like prey.

If you tenant has an aggressive breed dog, avoid them at all costs.


Other Red Flags

These by themselves are not necessarily deal killers, but could be.

Moving Too Often

Anyone who moves more than 2 times in a 5 year period could be a problem tenant. Look at the credit report for past addresses. You likely do not want someone that moves every year. Why are they moving — are they being asked to leave? Do they have a habit of annoying neighbors and have to leave?

There are legitimate reasons, but it is a red flag.

Looking to Move in Less than 2 Weeks

If your tenant needs a place right away, it is not a godsend for your vacant place, it is a huge red flag. Why do they need a place so soon? Did they just get a cure/quit notice?  Do they realize they cannot pay rent and need to move out? Are they going to stiff their current landlord and move out without notice?

Related: Screening, Qualifying and Turning Down Potential Tenants

It could be legitimate. Did they just move into town and need a place to move into? Maybe they are living at home and will get their first apartment. Or their soon to be new landlord could not deliver the apartment and they are homeless now.

Living with Relatives or a in a Motel

When someone is living with relatives or in a motel, it is a red flag.

Did they just need a fast place to stay because of a cure/quit and did not have time to look? This is a common theme among people who are getting evicted. They move in with relatives and try to save money. After a few months, they attempt to move out. Solid tenants always have a place, and it is generally not with friends and relatives.

Certain Kinds of Tattoos

When I see someone with homemade tattoos, I get suspicious.

Who would let their friend put ink or cigarette ashes on them and poke them with a needle? Too many tattoos could also be an issue, as it signals the tenant could be more rebellious than a person without tattoos. Some tattoos are art, some are an anti-societal statement.

If I see something that looks like a gang tattoo, the tenant is rejected.

Changing Jobs Too Often

I like tenants with careers, not jobs. I want them to work at places that have paid vacations, sick days, health insurance and paid holidays. I do not want my rent late due to Christmas, kids getting sick, taking time off to go to a wedding, etc. I do not want a tenant who is a cashier today, a tire changer tomorrow and a burger flipper in six months.

If they change jobs that often, you will soon be without rent when they are between jobs. Look for at least 12 months at the same job or career. It is a lot tougher to track down a judgment and get a garnishment with a job hopper.

Owing Money to the State

If your tenant has unpaid traffic tickets or fines, it is a problem. Do you think that they will pay your past due rent when they are willing to risk arrest for having an unpaid fine?

Paying Deposit After Move In

If your tenant doesn’t have the full deposit at move in, do not rent to them. You will likely never get the full deposit. And you will have a very risky situation.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help landlords who have found BiggerPockets more recently. Leave a comment and let us know what you think!]

Have you ever rented to anyone with the above red flags and gotten burned? What are your personal red flags?

Let us know your stories in the comments below!

About Author

Eric D.

Eric is a 55 year old, soon to be former, computer professional. He started several years ago to replace his “work income”, with other alternate streams. He is well on his way to retirement at age 56, and is currently making more money at extracurricular activities, than he is working at his full time job. Whether that is Financially Independent, or just old fashioned entrepreneurial spirit, is in the eyes of the beholder.


  1. I agree with you on just about all of these. I never thought of the tenant looking for an immediate move-in as a red flag but I see your point.

    And it’s only a matter of time before you get the pit bull apologists on your case for saying they are an aggressive breed that can only have their instincts repressed for so long. If you want to own a pit bull or a rott, buy your own place to house that dog!

    • Thank you for the comment!

      That is where many landlords have problems. A tenant is getting kicked out, and needs a place right away before they get evicted. There is not enough time for a decent background check, and is the beginning of the problems.

      • Yep, and it’s sad that we have to…. but until people like you quit ignorantly quoting misguided “statistics” then there is a place for the “pit bull apologists” in the world.

        • Eric Bowlin

          It’s easy to dismiss a group by giving them a negative title. You are absolutely wrong about your comments about dogs and breeds and your information is based more in misperceptions and fears than in fact.

          That being said, I don’t allow large dogs in my apartments for maintenance reasons and also large dogs don’t live well in small apartments with little greenery or yard. I know terriers are great and loyal dogs but I don’t know if YOUR terrier is great when it’s the middle of the day, you are at work, and a leaky pipe needs an emergency repair.

        • Andy Krzanowsky

          Pit bulls accounted for 82% of human deaths in the U.S. last yr. I get that there can be good dogs but the breed was bred and developed on aggression. The true facts show that pitts are the most lethal dogs to own.

          Working in EMS I have yet to work a serious animal attack that wasn’t a pitt. This doesnt mean that they don’t occur but it does show they are far more prevalent.

          Why set yourself up with the liability as a landlord? If someone wants to own one… Great. However it will never be in a residence that I own.

        • Megan Clancy

          I don’t think he’s saying anything against owning a large/aggressive breed dog, he’s just saying don’t risk your investment on it. My grandfather had a pit growing up and he was literally the sweetest dog ever, he was so docile that even as young kids we could walk, wrestle and play with him and he never hurt anyone. We all know that dogs are a product of their upbringing, the problem is you cannot vet the upbringing of a strange dog when you’re vetting tenants. There is no way to know for certain the dog’s history, up-brining and its triggers, so on an individual level you can’t say for sure whether that particular dog is safe. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my life savings, my own assets, my career, and my retirement, unfortunately I can’t afford to take on such infinite unknowns.

        • Jennifer Rysdam

          The thing with the dogs is that you DON’T know the person and you DON’T know the dog. They could both be perfectly well behaved. You really don’t know though. Same reason why I would never let my child run up to an “aggressive breed” dog. I don’t know the dog or the person. I was attacked by a “very good” Doberman when I was 4. I tried to give her a hug. I know my Labs would never bite a child that tried to hug them.
          I had a tenant move in with a “good” German Sheppard. Not so good when he went after my tenant in a wheelchair and jumped on him. Not so good when he barked viciously at every person he came across and tried to get away from his owner, which really freaked everyone out.
          You don’t know the person that well (although these people were really nice, had great jobs and educations) and you don’t know the dog either. It’s not worth the risk in a rental property. I had 2 people that were so afraid of it that they were going to move if the dog didn’t. Luckily the dog people moved.

        • Brent Murphy

          @Andy Krzanowsky where did you get your statistics from? The source I found stated pit bulls caused 82% of deaths by dog. Not 82% of ALL human deaths

        • Eric D.

          Exactly correct. And it is not how they were raised, although that could make them even worse. There are far too many examples of pit-bulls turning on the owner, or the owners children.

    • David Hunter

      Excellent list from the perspective of the Landlord. I would even say its a great list too for choosing a marriage mate or a founding partner for a company. But there are points on this list that would be best kept to yourself as they may be legally actionable under fair housing and redlining laws. Remember that there are whole demographic segments of the population (especially in major metropolitan areas) that would not pass this list test – especially some minority groups!

      • Eric D.

        Thank you for reading!

        Other than the dismissed charges, which I no longer worry about, they should all be legal. Gang tattoos are a sure sign of trouble, although most gang members would not pass a credit check.

        You can avoid a criminal record by not getting caught. Getting a good credit score takes work.

  2. Great article. A lot of articles on the blog can sometimes tend to lack substance but this was very detailed and informative. While my criteria are not at stringent (although I hope they will be some time in the near future), you bring up great points for red flags I did not even believe were important indicators of a bad tenant. When I first began purchasing rental property, I learned the hard way that in order to run this business the right way, I would need to be a lot more picky with who I let move in. I have adapted my criteria over time, but it is a work in progress. Thanks for the tips!

    • Thank you for the comment!

      Keep learning. I have a lot of tips, and horror stories on my own blog too. I hope I do not have to learn anything from my next tenants, but odds are, I will. I just hope I do not have to learn too much…

      • Maggie Tasseron

        Good article Eric! I’m sure you know that the learning never ends. I’ve just had tenants who were good as gold for 5 1/2 years completely turn on me when I gave them notice as I want to sell the property and move away. They lied to me, lied to other people behind my back, deceived me at every turn, and even stopped paying rent. I finally had to evict them. Would never have dreamed that these people would treat me the way they did! Ironically, they were my last tenants after a run of almost 40 years as I’m going to go back to just flipping. What do you call Baptism by Fire when it happens at the end?

      • Thanks Deb. Many people do not understand that renting to a gang member could jeopardize your entire building. If you recognize gang tattoos, you can avoid a bad renter.

        Of course, most bad tenants can be identified by credit score.

        • You have to realize there is a GIANT difference between someone with teardrops on their face and some gang looking writing on their neck and someone that has full sleeves of hibiscus flowers and surfboards. Right? I mean, c’mon.

        • Absolutely there is a difference. Or a “MS 13” or a tattoo that says “Death Before Destruction” from someone who is not in the military.

          I have even rented to tattoo artists, with many tattoos. He even gave some tattoos to other tenants, and himself, in the apartment, (without my knowledge…)

          There is even a difference between a homemade tattoo put on by someone in their teens, who now has a great job, great credit, and great income. And once again, it needs to be collaborated with credit score, income and criminal record.

          But, if you get a lower credit score (< ~625), lower income 3x the rent or less, and a bunch of tattoos, it may be a deal breaker. It shows someone that thinks it is more important to get more ink, than pay bills.

          The same tattoos on a person with a $100K career, with a 700+ credit score, shows the tattoos are not an issue.

          But, it is a potential red flag, and shows you need to do a proper background check. It could even be a person, like one of my clients, who bilked investors out of $93 million with two full sleeves and a lot more on his back. He later wound up killing himself the night before he went to prison for 15 years.

  3. An important disclaimer is if you are renting near a Military town – Military people will exhibit a lot of these traits but are ideal tenants because their chain of command can mandate that they pay you.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      I have rented to quite a few active military families. I find they have outstanding credit (750+) and solid income, much of which is tax free. As a disabled vet myself, I would take a military person over a civilian any day.

      Now the younger, weekend warriors are a different story…

      • Zachary Rec

        A “weekend warrior” should have a regular job in addition to the military drill pay. This should be seen as a bonus pay, hence greater standing for the property.

        If they only have the military drill pay, then its like a part time job (and probably a No-go).

      • I’d hate to spread the idea that “much of military income is tax free”, let me assure you it is not. The only time federal income tax is waived is during a deployment in a combat zone. If you are referring to BAH, Basic Allowance for Housing, less so tax-free as much as non-taxable for purposes of gross income calculation. Since most rents are adjusted upwards to fit the housing allowance in military communities it’s a wash. Worse so that the BAH rates were cut this year.

  4. excellent article!! I totally agree that it is very Important to watch out for people living in a motel or with relatives–UNLESS they are in the area with a new job and are just staying in a motel or with relatives until they find a rental–if it IS a job transfer, they will have-and ASK FOR IT–a Letter of Intent from an employer–I got a college professor & a marine biologist as tenants that way– I also agree with anything on their criminal record–a man who will be aggressive with his partner will be aggressive with You –landlording is hard enough without being afraid of your tenant !

    • Thank you for the comment!

      I have had people leave my places and live in a motel. I have also rented to a family that just moved up from Florida, and were living with relatives until they found a place.

      Like any criteria, the red flags are only a chance that the tenant is high risk, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are 100% a bad tenant.

  5. Good post. I would add tenants full of excuses or tendencies to blame others for their situations. We see many tenants with poor credit which is often why they’re renting. When their credit, poor references, or employment history are someone else’s fault, that puts the exclamation point on the red flag.

    Also, many landlords walk prospective tenants out to their car. How they take care of their vehicle is a good indicator of how they’ll take care of your property.

    Most importantly, pay attention to the red flags. You will always always always lose more money on a bad tenant than a month of vacancy.

    Thanks, Eric!

    • I do disagree somewhat on the car indicator. My own car is often a mess (a too-busy life, horse tack in the trunk, didn’t have a chance to toss Starbucks cup out between back-to-back 14-hr/day job that started day after driving 500 miles, 2nd change of clothes for work on the back seat etc). My rent-on-time record is great (NEVER late for 15 years), and I take better care of the house than the management company. None of this would show by the condition of my car.

    • Thank you for the comment DJO.

      I would guess that if you have not had a late rent payment in 15 years, and take better care of it than a management company, your credit and income are great.

      And I would also guess you do not have much in terms or a criminal background, or poor driving record, despite driving quite a bit.

  6. Thanks for a great article. You covered a few items I have not considered before. I agree with you in equating credit score to responsibility.

    I just had a tenant who left without paying the last month’s rent. He had credit scores in mid 500s. I was a bit concerned initially. When he moved in my prop mgmt company said they had good reference from previous landlord. So I agreed and ended up with late payments. Thankfully we have the security deposit to cover, so I just have to wait a bit longer to get paid

    I may still take a chance with tenants with low credit score, but will keep the minimum at 630

    • Thank you for the comment!

      I have written about properrty managers. They goit the commission and you got the shaft…

      Only about 2% of renters have a score less than 500. With a 600 credit score, mortgage default rates are ~50%, and it’s easier to skip on rent, than a mortgage. So, 630 is a good start. Anything over 620 is considered a ‘C’ grade. Just make sure you are using FICO score, not a score with a different set of ranges…

    • My problem is, when a credit score is less than 630, a landlord must ask why, if a prospective tenant, has never, ever missed a landlord, or mortgage payment, took great care of his house, and has a reason for his or her low score than you in all honesty have to at least give the person a break, look at his priorities on his credit report, why the score so low?, loss of a job, hurt on a job, sometimes factors prohibit a person from making payments on time, but one factor is paramount, or two, income and has he or she always, and I mean always paid for the roof over their head and kept it nice, for a credit score sometimes leaves out life’s misery!!!!!!

  7. I think you bring up a lot of great points. We have had people mention dogs anything from a pitbull to having 2 large dogs in a small apartment, red flag for sure. Also on the criminal/background check, being upfront that a background check will occur is definitely a deterrent in filtering out viable renters.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      Remember that a “lab mix’, is generally renter jargon for “pure bred pit bull”. I declined one set of tenant over a 200 lb dog. They also had a boxer, which is ~50 lbs.

  8. Eric,
    Great article. I have been spending most of my free time for the past 3 weeks working on a rental that a tenant trashed pretty badly. The dumb part is the tenant was a nice person, and didn’t do it intentionally, but if I had checked up on them more frequently I could have avoided most of it. When they moved in they had 2 small dogs. That rental is dog friendly. Old but well made, but needs lots of updates. The couple divorce, husband moves out, the dogs change from a wiener type and a small mix to a boxer and a rottweiler. Then wife has accident and bad knee injury. I work with tenants who have true life hardship not caused by lazy or gross stupid. You also need to check for depression it appears. The clean tenant now is a slob with cigarette buts all over, 2 teenage boys who do nothing but play video games, a dog that literally chewed the woodwork up and literally broke at least 2 windows, no yard work done, not even watering trees or bushes, well you get the idea. As soon as I saw the dog I should have put my foot down. I did eventually get all my rent, but the house will be open for at 2 months even with me and my handyman working 20 to 30 hours a week on it. I have always found that being picky and waiting has led to better clients and longer stays with less damage. I just get in too much of a hurry when a house is empty very long. I do not do any credit or criminal checks but I check references and in very small towns you can find out a lot by word of mouth. thanks again.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      I would guess if you would have checked credit score, you would have at least known you were taking in a higher risk tenant. As you can see, one bad tenant every 10 years can wipe out much of your profits.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      The issue with traffic violations is getting a background check that actually has them in it. Some checks, like a national check, do not have that information and do not even have a murder until several years later.

  9. Hi Eric, I really liked the article and have added it to my tenant screening review file. Several of the items you listed will probably generate quite a bit of discussion but I like the way you think. Professional tenants have a huge reservoir of very convincing stories and the good PT’s (pro tenants) can be very persuasive. Very persuasive. When added to their story the picture they paint is a “can’t miss” tenant that had a few unlucky breaks. This land-lording thing is hard enough without trying to sift thru the scammers. As a side note I will follow prospects out to their car for a quick sniff around. A newer clean car is a plus, clean(er) kids are nice, no trash laying around the floors etc.
    I have actually wondered if I would rent to myself some days!

    • Thank you for the comment!

      One bad tenant can take away the entire ptofitability of your rental for several years. It never pays to take a high risk tenant, unless you run a low-income, low quality rental. Even then, it’s questionable.

  10. Eric,
    I have seen you on BP numerous times talking about the importance of tenant screening. This article lets me and others know that you definitely know your stuff on this topic! I’m impressed with the thinking that has led you to your policies/procedures. I’m 10 yrs in on owning rentals and screen pretty hard, but will be adopting a couple of your suggestions. This is a must read for anyone starting out, and a challenge to us that have been doing it a while to make sure we are doing all that we can/should. It’s outside the scope of this article, but I think it’s worth saying that the nicer the unit, the more selective you can be. A crappy unit will draw a pool of crappy renters and a nice clean unit in a decent area will draw a much better selection of people to choose from. Thanks for putting together a great article.

    • Thank you for the comment and great words!

      I did not start out that way, I went a lot by gut feel. And I was a 100% Section 8 Landlord. After realizing I could not continue to subsidize a renters lifestyle, I did a lot of research on what makes a great tenant. Also, I read numerous studies on credit scores and there relation to personal behaviors.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      The problem with gut feel, is that it does not pass any fair housing tests. It is also very unreliable, especially when used to accept tenants. I personally know two murderers, and most people would have rented to Ted Bundy and the BTK killer if they would have applied. Or even OJ Simpson prior to his episode.

      And do not think that a murderer will always serve jail time. Some only receive probation.

      I would have guessed that your bad tenants would have been found out with a credit test. Of course some people’s bad tenant would be others great tenant… It depends on what your tolerance is. Some landlords get upset when a tenant calls for necessary maintenance.

      • Actually, these particular tenants came with glowing references and solid credit histories. I certainly did not mean to imply that one should ONLY go by gut feel. I do think it’s a mistake to ignore it, though. I doubt very seriously that the ‘too many tattoos’ test would pass the fair housing test, either, but as landlords, we are allowed a little discretion. It is much easier to not rent to someone in the first place than to evict or deal with problems.

      • Thank you for the clarification. People with tattoos are not a protected class, it would pass any fair housing test. Especially gang tattoos.

        Generally, high credit scores and solid incomes are a great tenant, but nothing is 100%. And some people think that tenants that call for regular maintenance are bad tenants. I like those tenants. I get to keep things 100% while they are in, so I can have a faster turn.

  11. I read this somewhere… Times a landlord gets into trouble is when they are in a hurry and when they feel sorry for someone. I always try to remind myself of these two thoughts when I have an opening. Now, I’ll add yours to my list

    • Thank you for the comment!

      It is always a delimia. Go for teh tenant with money in hand, or wait for the provebial next one that may be just as bad. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

      But in the landlord game, there will always be a next great tenant, the odds are in your favor if you have the knowledge on how to attract them and identify them.

  12. I have denied tenants based on what I have found on Facebook; just this weekend I checked out a prospective tenant flashing gang signs, obviously that is a decline!

    Another red flag is looking how many times and who is pulling their credit. We had a file recently where in the last 2 months they had been to multiple car lots, the Harley Dealership, Boat dealership, furniture store and personal loan lender. That shows me they are itching to spend money judging from their income, they were at places that show poor financial choices.

    Lastly, another red flag is having collections from cell phones and utility companies. Cell phones because that is not a expensive bill and it is absolutely necessary to have a phone. If they can’t pay their phone bill, then they probably are not good about paying bills AND if you need to get a hold of them, there is a good chance at some point in their lease, their phone will be turned off. Utilities is an essential service–that one should never be on collection by a good tenant.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      Great points! I will often Google a person, just to see what comes up. And I am always leery of people that have many small payments in collections, especially utilities and cell phones. A cell phone collection is often a contract violation. They give you a phone and want a 2 year commitment. If you can’t keep that 300 commitment, how are you going to keep a lease commitment?

      Also recent small collections are bad.

      But, in the end, all these missed bill payments and collections are accumulated in a credit score, and credit score is widely available. And a very objective and relevant criteria.

    • Thank you for the comment Kalen!

      Everyone knows to “do a background check”, but very few know what to look for. I put my criteria in practice, every month. I post my rent collections on line, on my own blog, so that people can see how solid tenants perform.

      it’s easy to be a landlord when you have great tenants!

  13. Nice article. I would disagree about the dog breeds however. What is more important is how the owner interacts with and trains his or her dog. And if the dog is likely to be incontinent or not.

    A Chihuahua is much less likely to be well trained than a Rott. and an untrained dog of any breed is far more likely to cause damage. Most Rottweilers are pretty mellow unless you try to go into their territory uninvited. Pit Bulls- well, I agree with you there. They are difficult to train and manage, a good portion are bred as fighting dogs, A good portion are hair trigger. & Most (not all) PB owners I’ve seen have not done any strict obedience training.

    I think it’s more important to interview the dog itself. See how it acts with not only the husband but also the wife and kids when the husband leaves the room. Does it listen? Does it behave? Is it friendly? A guard dog breed will usually be friendly towards a stranger if brought into the stranger’s territory- ie the house you are renting or your office. If not then the owner has not done much work socializing or training the dog.

    I would take a well socialized large dog any day over an un-neutered male cat…Less work when they leave…

    • Thank you for the comment!

      I would agree, a large dog is better than most male cats, neutered or not. Un-neutered cats are a real problem.

      I disagree on the aggressive dogs though. Some are OK, I have taken in German Shepherds, bull dogs, dobermans, etc. But there are far too many horror stories involving pit bulls attacking kids, even kids in their own home.

      The stats show Rottweilers are very dangerous too. I am not as worried about damage from a large dog, I am worried about dog attacks and getting sued; and not having insurance coverage because I took in a restricted breed. An attack on another dog, or person could be very expensive.

      In a way, it is like owning a wild animal. I used to raise and bred raccoons, had bobcats, cougars, a pet fox, red tail hawk, etc. I knew a lady with a chimpanzee (Albert the chimp).

      All these animals were real cool, and were gentle as they come, even the chimp and cougar. The chimp was REAL cool… But, under the covers, they were still wild animals. Even some domestic animals, like Holstein bulls, cannot be trusted in the right situation. No matter how they are raised.

      • Lynn Harrison

        LOL, you have a point Eric. I have a Rott/Dobie mix that is a reformed potential fear biter. My late partner (a dog trainer and wildlife rehabilitater) and I retrained him. Took 2 solid years at 1 year old. He is now Mr Social Mascot Dog in a very public place, But… we didn’t trust him in public for 2 years… And I’m still strict.

        I think maybe you or I could spot a problem. If you were so inclined. But maybe not so easy for others. I’ll keep my opinion on the Rotts though- every Rott I’ve ever met who was NOT trained as a guard dog was gentle with people. Unless someone broke into their Territory. But- the insurance…

        A gentle cougar? Really? For how long? I don’t think I would ever trust that. LOL, I can just imagine the smell a male cougar might leave in an apartment.

      • Ryan Moore

        About the pitbulls, not sure if you know much about statistics, but the results of most any statistic can be misleading and can also be very subject to who’s interpreting them. Pit bulls are usually used as fighting dogs, true. But are pitbulls used as fighting dogs because they’re nasty, or are they nasty because they were used as fighting dogs? My mother has long been in the business of cat/dog rescue and rehabilitation, and every pit bull I’ve ever met has been a sweetheart – because they wee never used to fight. What I’m getting at is Correlation does not equal Causation.
        That being said, a lot of bigger dogs do tend to be very headstrong and stubborn, and can be very hard to control if not trained properly; and unfortunately, most people do not do so. Me personally, I probably wouldn’t rent to people with pets, period. But I suppose that would depend on the property.

        • Lynn Harrison

          There are several different types of Pitts bred for different reasons. I’ve seen several Pitts from fighting lines/housholds and most (not all) of those may be time bombs. But… most Pitts today aren’t bred for that.

          It really boils down to the owner and the dog’s training. I think if the truth be known Chihuahuas and Dachshunds (which are purported to be more human aggressive than Rotts and Pitts in some studies) are probably the most frequent biters as they are the least likely to be trained. I can’t count the number of times I’ve avoided small dog bites in one way or another. Hate those owners! Fewer people complain much about a bite from a small dog. Maybe it’s like saying a 6 lb animal got the best of you… Or maybe it’s because you kicked the damn dog afterwards…

          If you’ve worked with dogs then you know this.

  14. Fantastic points and I do agree with all of them. Students tend to move much more often just because they are switching roommates or just always looking for a cool new spot. Of course it still creates turnover costs, so still not ideal. Most owners/landlords/managers have the obvious criteria of income, credit, criminal, landlord check. However, I like the points you bring up about stability in the job. Whenever I have some tell me they need to move “asap” I ALWAYS ask why. They usually dance around the all important issue with “the landlord isn’t fixing things”, which means they didn’t pay and eviction has been filed. I personally also believe in general that how they have themselves put together (hygeine , for example), and how messy their car is can also tell me a lot on the spot. People that have anything to hide will have elaborate stories and its always someone else’s fault. This list of red flags pretty much hits every angle of precaution based on character and personal responsibility! It in no way discriminates illegally on protected classes. Again, great summary and reasoning! 🙂

    • Thank you for the comment! I am glad you liked the post. I have many more on my own blog.

      Whenever I hear about past landlord stories, and I get a story about why the tenant’s credit score is so low, I assume the tenant were not paying. Far too many tenants start complaining as soon as they cannot pay rent. I used to see that all the time too.

  15. WHOA! Slow your roll on the pit bull hate.

    I’m sorry, but I couldn’t even read the rest of your article after that section. While I thought the beginning was great and could agree, you lost credibility with ignorant “facts” and “statistics” about specific dog breeds.

    It is 100% all about the dog, and pitbulls were actually bread to look after small children, not eat them, as your post would suggest.

    • Just as another thought – I agree, if you don’t want to allow them in your units, that’s fine. I don’t disagree there. And, I also think that a responsible dog owner would own their home before getting a “disallowed” breed. However, as we all know, circumstances change and that does NOT make these dog owners a “riskier class” of people off the bat.

      I am more annoyed at your absolute misunderstanding of dogs in general, and always disappointed to see people lump ANY breed of dog into a certain behavior class.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      Successful landlording is all about risk mitigation. There are countless people that own pit bulls that would never cause an issue. But the statistics do not lie. If you are going to be killed by a dog, it is very likely going to be a pit bull. That is why insurance companies, and many towns, ban them.

      I wonder they got the name pit bull? I have read it was because they were bred to bite and hold bulls, bears and other large animals around the face and head, not be a nanny dog.

      But you and I will have to agree to disagree. I will go with a lower risk tenant, you can rent to the pit bull owners.

  16. Eric

    I’m struggling with the point you make about, “When someone is a magnet to the cops, there is generally a reason.” Have you ever heard of DWB, DWL, DWA? In many communities, it’s not unusual to be a “magnet to the cops” simply because of the color of your skin, or even the coloring on your skin (tattoos). With as much as we like to believe it doesn’t happen, we’re really only ostriching to the problem. The “stop and frisk” program in NYC is a classic example of it.

    How about the case of someone moved to a new city, and is unfamiliar with the speed limits? What was a 65 zone where you used to live is suddenly a 50 zone. You’re unsure as you’ve yet to see a sign since there were large trucks obfuscating your view of the last sign, but you’re puttering along at 57 and get pulled over. When you plead your case to the motorcycle officer, you’re ticketed, but the DA has mercy on you when you go to court and dismisses it. I can tell you without any fear of contradiction, that exact thing happens. Nobody was late for anything, and the attempt to be a good citizen was clear. It has nothing to do with my ability to pay my rent. Absolutely nothing to do with it as my rent was $1650 and I made that (after taxes) in two days the following weekend.

    When my friend comes down to visit and we’re driving to an event, then he gets pulled over in a nearly identical car a few hundred yards behind me, going literally the same speed to the tenth (we both have and use data loggers as we were going to the race track to drive for the weekend), the only difference in the cars is mine has a sunroof, and the only difference in us is I’m white and he’s black, it’s quite clear he was pulled over for “driving while black”. His case was dismissed because of the data logger showing he was going .8 mph BELOW the speed limit, although ticketed at 6 above it. The officer calling him “boy” probably didn’t help the state’s case, either. I have asian and latino friends who suffer from the same problem, not to mention my friend who is literally a brain surgeon, but is from Iran, has a track prepared car, and gets pulled over for “Driving While Persian” about every 5th time he drives it.

    I may be a bit sensitive to the problem as I’ve been the victim, multiple times, of being denied housing (and a car loan once) because of bigotry. Your assertion that being pulled over too many times is a sign of someone being a bad risk smells a lot like bigotry to me. When writing my legal name on an application gets me a dirty look and told, “We’ll call you” is all it takes, you become a bit jaded at things like this.

    To me, this section, “When someone is a magnet to the cops, there is generally a reason,” appears you’re advocating racial or bigoted criteria. It appears to be a thinly veiled, carefully worded racially motivated statement. Personally, I take great offense to this.

    I hadn’t read this article until one of my Realtor friends pointed it out to me in outrage. Having advocated to her and other Realtors the fantastic wealth of information on BP, articles like this, although containing some good information, really put egg on my face.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      As a multifamily landlord, I need to take into account the safety and welfare of all my tenants, not just the tenant for the apartment that is vacant. I want low-risk, boring tenants. I cannot make an exception for different races that are ticketed for what you call Driving while black, Asian or Latino. It is not my responsibility to correct any wrongs that other government agencies have caused you or anyone else; it is my responsibility to make my current tenants safe. As I have said before, if I had a SFH, I could rent to Attila the Hun, and as long as they pay rent who cares if the entire neighborhood moves out.

      I want a boring tenant, one who is quiet, and goes to bed early. One who has a job, gets home, and does quiet things that no one else in the building is aware of. Just like the rest of the tenants in the building. I do not need someone playing loud music, ‘tweaking’ their car speaker systems, practicing for their band, playing loud video games at 2 AM. Even a night shift worker can cause issues and they are another red flag.

      In my younger years, I was a magnet to the cops myself. And the interesting coincidence is, I used to disregard many traffic laws. I was a smart ass to the cops at times. I liked to go fast, and I even got thrown in jail for going too fast. When I was stopped, and told I was doing 84 in a 45, it didn’t even occur to me that it was wrong, as I was doing well over 100 mph just prior to getting clocked. Often one’s troubles can be found by looking in the mirror, rather than looking at someone else for excuses for your troubles. If you are polite and contrite, it also goes a long ways to avoiding trouble.

      By your reference to owning/driving race cars, I would probably classify that as a red flag. Someone that drives a car on the track is likely to have loud, noisy cars at home too. And when they have friends over, those friends will likely have loud noisy cars. Maybe even with loud stereos. That is not something that other tenants in the building want to hear. And when people are working on their cars all the time, the apartment doesn’t have a good look.

      So, race has nothing to do with my selection of renters, personal habits do. Just because you have the income to pay rent, it doesn’t make you a good tenant. Credit score, income and criminal record are my main indicators. A lot about personal behaviors can be derived through credit score and criminal record. I would suggest to someone that has multiple dismissed violations to get them expunged. And then, do not do things that draw attention to you. Do not expect a landlord to adjust their criminal record.

      But your response is another great warning to other landlords that there are plenty of people that feel they are entitled to rent, to any place they apply, and to be on the watch for red flags even more.

      • And here I thought you were just hateful toward dog breeds.

        I generally don’t subscribe to people pulling the “race card” for most things… but there is truth to what Michael said. Heck, I have even been pulled over for being white and being in the “wrong neighborhood”.

        You even dislike night shift workers? I guess at this point I am just shaking my head at your incredibly long list of people you view to be troublesome and “risky”.

        No one is entitled to anything, but I’m starting to think you’re part of the reason fair housing laws must exist in the first place.

      • I have no doubt there is truth to what he said, but it is not my job as a landlord to discount a person’s criminal record so I can move them in. That is a job for the Courts.

        There are lots of red flags out there. Each one, in and of itself, do not make for a bad tenant, although some do.

        So, you add up the red flags, and make your decision. Fair Housing laws protect people from things that they have no control over. Credit score, income, criminal record are all things people have control over.

        If you ever become a multifamily landlord, or any landlord, you will understand what a bad tenant costs, and you will make sure you only take the very best your property can attract.

      • I happen to know Michael personally, and I know that you are assuming a lot of incorrect information. Michael’s cars are luxury, high end vehicles, usually the type that cops AVOID pulling over because if you can afford a nice car, you can also afford good attorneys, and he races professionally. He and my other half, who has an Aston Martin, are both racecar drivers; would you really turn away a model tenant because of their hobbies, hobbies that have no relevancy to their the quality of their application? Most, if not all, of us who have racecars also have daily drivers: pickup trucks, SUVs, family cars. Do you reject people with pickup trucks too? Because trucks are often loud, especially diesels, and heaven forbid that diesel truck owner’s friends come over too. By your judgment, my model tenants with their 800 credit score, great job/landlord history, and a Porsche in the garage would have been rejected based on something that has nothing to do with what happens in the property they lease from me.

      • Thank you for the comment!

        It is good you know Michael. If he was renting my place, he would apply like everyone else. He would be compared to my criteria,and would pass of fail on that criteria. If he was continually ticketed or arrested, he would fail my screening criteria.

        I drive a F350 diesel, so a truck is not an issue. If someone is continually working on cars, regardless of what type of car they are working on, it is an issue if it is outside the garage.

  17. Well thanks for that assumption. I am a landlord.

    I get what you’re saying. Trust me, I do. But the way you phrase things makes you come off as the condescending know-it-all landlord that gives way to the wonderful evil landlord stereotype.

    • FYI. I have tenants of all races, but there are many things they have in common. Solid credit scores, clean criminal records, and decent income with stable jobs. And they do not own any pit bulls…

      I like a class A tenant, they are the easiest to manage, and the most profitable. I am OK with not having the highest rent.

      As always, great discussion.

  18. I linked over here from A Gai Shan Life and have found this post very informative. I’m currently a homeowner, but not for long since I’m voluntarily relocating for personal reasons (I’m SO DONE with cold and snowy winters!). I’ll be moving to a new city, still working for the same employer, but will become a tenant instead of a homeowner. And some of your “red flags” are ones that I’ve known could be problems for me with this change of status.

    Good income? Check. Solid employment history? Check. Good credit score? Check. No criminal history? Check. Landlord references? Nope. I’ve been a homeowner for more than 15 years, so that’s not going to happen. Living in a hotel? Uh…yeah, that was basically the plan. I was going to drive across the country, plant myself in an extended stay hotel for a week or two, and try to find a decent apartment as soon as possible. With those “winning” aspects of my life, my chances of scoring a decent apartment wouldn’t seem too bad, except…”Aggressive or large breed of dog”…well, your guess is as good as mine as to the breed mix of my dog. She’s 50 lbs and not small at all. I would have waited until she lived her natural life span before moving out of my house, but I simply cannot abide another winter like last year in Chicago. Nor can I re-home my nearly 12 year old dog. That would be cruel.

    Luckily for me, a close family connection has decided I would be a fantastic tenant to take over a house he owns and rents in the same area where I’ll be moving. It’s such a relief to know that I will wind up in a good rental with a great landlord!

    I totally get that risk mitigation is important as a landlord. As a homeowner, I rented out spare bedrooms in my house for years and I turned down potential roommates/tenants because I thought their lifestyle wasn’t a fit for my “boring household” where I must be in bed early so I can be up in the morning to get ready for work. (And those &^% 7 AM conference calls in Chicago will start at 5 AM out on the west coast! Ouch! Well, at least I will not be freezing or shoveling snow every other day!) It’s a conundrum, that’s for sure.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      If you have solid credit, and solid income without a criminal background, you should be fine. No past landlord references and living in a hotel are definitely red flags, but are easily explainable.

      Life as a landlord is tough when you get bad tenants.

  19. Wow. Just wow. I’ve been a landlord for years, and I would NEVER think to invade my tenants’ privacy to the extent of investigating their driving record. I have had incredibly good tenants over the 10 years I’ve been a landlord, and I’ve never done anything more than check credit, landlord references, criminal background, and employment status. I had one tenant, a six-figure, white collar earner, who had 9 tickets in one year, all dismissed, and he was a model tenant who never once paid the rent late and took immaculate care of the property. I only knew about the tickets because he told me about them later, and I didn’t care: it had no bearing whatsoever on his tenancy or ability to pay.

    Your driving record criteria, especially as it includes traffic stops and offenses where the prospective tenant was found not guilty, smacks of elitism and privilege, since you’re obviously lucky enough not to be in a racial group not targeted and regularly hassled. Those of us with sports cars are targeted pretty frequently, as Michael mentioned, as are minorities. I’d love to know what the racial makeup of your tenants is; I’d bet that it might be enough to raise some fair housing eyebrows.

    You made some good points, but you advocate for some horrible and (thinly veiled) bigoted ones too, and that casts a pall over the credibility of everything else in the article. I feel for anyone who has lived their life outside of a bubble who makes application to live in any of your properties.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      It is interesting to note that you would not think of invading your tenant privacy by looking at their driving record, which is in the public record, but yet you do a credit check. My background checks come with all criminal charges, which includes traffic violations.

      A driving record is part of a tenants criminal record, plain and simple. Some landlords do a more thorough check than others. It’s all OK, everyone has to live somewhere.

      As I have said in previous posts, I have rented to many tenants sight unseen. Credit score and income are the main indicators. A criminal will rarely have a good credit score. If you want to rent to someone that is continually arrested/ticketed by the cops, good for you. I say it is a huge red flag. I will avoid them, and advise others to do the same.

      If there is a problem with the cops, or the Courts, you should address it with the cops or the Courts, not landlords that use that information.

  20. Hi Eric. I am a regular reader of both your BP posts and you NLL posts. I appreciate your insight from the front lines. I am starting to look for rentals, and learning from your experience will help me immensely when I go to rent my first unit out. I have a friend who just rented her rather expensive SFH out to a tenant that I just know is going to give her massive amounts of problems, because they hit about 5 of these red flags.

    I think many of the commenters here take individual “red flags” that pertain to them personally as a hit to them. That isn’t the case. What you have tried to do is point out things that can indicate a bad tenant. While it is entirely possible to have a great experience renting to someone with a less than 500 credit score who owns a pit bull, is covered in tattoos, drives a disgustingly messy car that gets pulled over frequently, and has to move in “immediately” because he was evicted for domestic violence at his last rental, it isn’t very LIKELY that a person who hits so many of your red flags is going to be an awesome, pain-free tenant.

    The best tenant is the boring one.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      You hit the nail right on the head. You can have a great tenant with all of the red flags, but it is not likely to be. If you want an easy, and profitable, time being a landlord, go with low risk tenants.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      You definitely need to screen tenants, and know what characteristics makes a high risk tenant. Once you reduce your tenant risk, it is easier all around – and more profitable.

  21. We should never expect anyone to look like ourselves, but I’m talking about extremes here that transcend fashion.
    How many of you have noticed that those tenants who come to the showing looking raggedy (and I don’t mean “shabby chic”, I mean an obvious disregard for their appearance) – hair un-combed, sloppy clothes, dirty car inside and out, messy looking kids – are the ones who will kept the home in the condition they keep themselves? Additionally, I’ll bet other things were sloppy such as the way they completed their application, late to all appointments, late rent, etc. In retrospect, did the sloppy looking prospect become a tenant that left you with a big rehab bill that the security deposit couldn’t cover? I’ve never denied anyone based on grooming because they looked just as bad on paper as they did in person, but it’s an interesting observation.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      You are correct, everyone will look different physically. And a sloppy person, that never cleans up, probably does not have a great job, or a great credit rating. And likely not a great criminal background. But there are exceptions, undercover cop, a farm worker, etc.

      But that is why it is very important to look at the income, credit and criminal records. And use things a past landlord will say with a bit of caution.

  22. Veronica Wilkerson on

    Let’s also not forget that no matter how diligent we are in screening an applicant, there are those applicants who come in on their Sunday best and have the income, credit, and references but you still end up with a tenant who pushes the boundary between an applicant who on paper is a dream tenant and one who leaves you scratching your head. I am happy to report that this happened to me only once in eleven years so that’s pretty good, right?

    • Thank you for the comment!

      That is absolutely true. All you are doing by screening tenants is putting the odds in your favor. Imagine the odds against the landlords that not only do not screen, but don’t even know what to look for.

  23. Carrie Thompson

    I’d like to know where You find these unicorn tenants! I understand the concept of the article but the advice is just plain unrealistic not to mention bad for business. Your personal red flag list pretty much sums up the typical renter so You”ll end up eliminating the majority of potential tenants. Typically those with professional careers, steady employment, perfect credit, and stable lifestyles are homeowners. You’ll have to assume some risk if You want to prosper as a landlord. The best way to fill a vacancy and protect Your investment property is to check employment, income, SSN, driver’s license, past evictions, bankruptcies, criminal background and prior landlord references. Be sure to have proper insurance coverage and collect all reasonable security deposits and non refundable fees. It’s also a good idea to consult with an attorney or hire a reputable property manager to write the lease agreement. My personal red flag would be a well dressed, church going clean freak, with a 750 credit score, clean driving record, no tattoos, or criminal history, who pulls up in a BMW. Most likely it’s a professional tenant or identity theft!

    • Eric D.

      Thank you for the comment!

      Solid tenants are everywhere. many younger people rent before buying. Most of my tenants go on to buy homes, so I see many $80K+ incomes and 700+ scores.

      A solid property, in a solid neighborhood is what it takes. Not every red flag is a problem, but you need to be able to see them.

    • Eric D.

      Thank you for the comment!

      I would agree with your friend. If you have solid criteria, the program that pays rent makes no difference. There are people that are not on section 8 that were kicked out, and others who are bad enough not to qualify.

      Yes, Section 8 tenants can have a great credit score. There is no criteria in a credit score that looks at income or public assistance.

      The issue is, many of the Section 8 tenants are not good, so many landlords exclude them all. sometimes the program is a bit onerous and that irritates some landlords too.

  24. Eric D.

    Thank you for the comment!

    You are correct. That is why I list many examples of my criteria.

    Anyone who moves more than 2 times in a 5 year period
    Looking to Move in Less than 2 Weeks
    Living with Relatives or a in a Motel (no rental references)
    Certain Kinds of Tattoos (No gang tattoos)
    Changing Jobs Too Often (stable employment 2+ years same trade or job)
    Owing Money to the State (no collection accounts)
    Paying Deposit After Move In (no money, no stay)

  25. Maggie Tasseron

    Good article! I would add to ask how many people will be living in the property. Too many often means trouble, especially if it’s a group of adults; they will try to pay the rent individually, even if you have put a clause in your lease that partial rent will not be accepted.

  26. I think most of these are great tips. I would be careful in being too hasty with a renters credit score. if you can get a report not just the fico score that is very helpful. If there are such things as unpaid cable, utilities, and cell phone bills this is a red flag, however if the possible tenant, for example, is a single parent and has mostly older medical bills the poor score is more understandable and is therefore less of a risk than the aforementioned type. if they can explain this and it is coupled with positive markers for being a stable and trustworthy tenant then it shouldn’t effect tenancy.

  27. Marc Jolicoeur


    I really appreciate this article and your red flags. Great information. I don’t really agree with flagging if someone has multiple speeding or parking tickets but I get your point! I would have been red flagged over most of my adult life but I always paid my fines on time.

    It is funny how many people disqualify themselves or drop off the face of the earth by simply sharing what my rental criteria are. Income, Credit Score, Debt to Income ratio, background check, landlord reference, etc… I also expect good communication by email or by text message to answer a few basic questions about why they want to move to my area.

    Good stuff.

  28. Isaac Rothermel

    Hey Eric, very thought provoking article…I have experience in property management, and am beginning my investment career in sub-70k housing (many below 50k and even 30k,) so I’ve put a lot into thinking about property management practices for my future clientele. One thing I would advise any landlord is to set a written policy for renting, and then not bend your rules. This has two benefits — it keeps you from the short term gain, long term harm of abusive tenants, and also safeguards against lawsuits of discrimination. It also makes sense to provide this written policy to any pm company that manages your property — many REIs complain about their PMs, but don’t provide a written policy for their buildings.

    All that said, I’m not sure I agree with your policy of requiring an income 3.5x the rent of the apartment. For higher income SFRs, I agree completely. Somebody renting your $250k house should be making 3.5x whatever the rent is, say $2,500/mo. (at an annual income of at least 90k.) But the cheaper a property, the more likely the 1% Rule turns into something like the 2, 3, or even 4% Rule! The rationale is that these lower value properties are going to have higher turnover rates, therefore a higher rent is justified to cover vacancy costs. Even if a landlord is able to maintain a low vacancy rate, however, why not charge what the market supports? Asking for a significantly lower rent amount in order to attract more tenants is foolish.

    Property management all boils down to that classic Tony Robbins quote, “You don’t lack resources. You lack resourcefulness.” Many landlords (or property managers!) settle for a sub-par tenant because there “Aren’t enough applicants,” when they should be out there knocking on doors in the neighborhood, refreshing the Craigslist page, hustling to build a list of potential tenants and qualifying them.

    • When a landlord cannot find a tenant, there are only two possible reasons. They are over-priced, or under marketing. Lowering price increases demand, every time.

      If you are only getting $1000 a month for a rental, a household income of $3,500 is not too much. That’s two people making minimum wage. Going below that, you run into trouble. I want stability. A career, not a job. I do not want any evictions, nor do I want people paying rent late, or not at all.

      You do need a higher rent for lower quality tenants, as they are more expensive to rent to.

  29. I disagree with so many things in this article. I have been a successful landlord for 11 years and I think advising people to avoid those with certain dog breeds or lowered credit scores is a slippery slope and bad practice. There are plenty of amazing pit bulls and rottweilers in the world and making it harder for good, responsible dog owners that have these breeds to rent is one of the reasons these poor animals fall into bad hands. We should not be punishing people for a breed of dog. Why not collect similar data to your tenant screening instead, such as how many dog fights their dog has had at the dog park, before making the world harder for these poor animals. Moreover, there are plenty of reasons people can be incredibly responsible but have a lowered credit score, including ex-spouses that drained checking accounts and ran up credit cards (quite a common scenario). The advice given in this article is one of the major reasons we have a housing problem in this country. “Why take a chance” you ask above? Because people need places to live, and good people don’t all come in the same size and shape any more than good tenants do.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      I am a multifamily landlord, with 25 tenants, which is infinitely more challenging than a single family home landlord. When I have a bad tenant, I could lose multiple tenants. I need to be as close to 100% sure the tenant will work out as I can be.

      There are many reasons to avoid pit-bulls and Rottweilers. Your insurance company may prohibit them. If you are going to be killed by a dog, there is a 90% chance it will be by these two types of dogs. There have been studies that show people that own aggressive breeds have a higher likely hood of engaging in risky behaviors. I do not need additional risk due to a tenant with a “bully” breed. I am happy to send them to another landlord.

      Credit score is another good indicator, probably the best there is. Lower credit score people have higher insurance claims. Check with your own insurance agent. Using a specific score for all tenants, helps comply with fair housing law. Some good people have low scores, but I prefer to get a better odds tenant, one that has shown they are prepared financially.

      If you do not use credit score, you are limited to only previous landlord checks, which I have written about as being the most unreliable method for screening tenants that there is. You may as well ask your dog. Criminal records are good, but many bad people get plea bargained charges and they are dismissed. Or they just do not get caught.

      I am in the landlording business to make money, plain and simple. If I provide housing at the same time, it is a win-win. Your motives may be different. I am not going to put other tenants at risk, nor am I going to put my profits at risk.

  30. Tim Dye

    Good article. A long time ago, a more experienced investor/landlord told me to look at their car. If the inside is a complete mess, guess what the inside of your unit is going to look like after they move in! I still use that advice today.

    • Thank you for Reading!

      I have heard of that approach too. If you have tenants from out of town, you will not be able to use that approach. I have approved tenants that I have never met.

      It is also very subjective. Two people might have different conclusions. Or you might have picked a good vs. bad day.

      Way back, I have even gone to the renters previous home to drop something off or pick up something. That is too labor intensive.

      To be consistent, you need a solid, repeatable approach.

  31. Megan Clancy

    Hi Eric,

    Good post, there is a lot of good information here. I would add smoker too (if someone hasn’t already mentioned it in the comments). Depending on the type of unit (and the feelings of the landlord) this may not be a huge deal to some people, but as a non-smoker it is to me and I made the mistake of not having it outlined explicitly in my lease. I wouldn’t necessarily say in the future that my units are non-smoking, but next time I will add a clause in the lease stating that if the tenant does smoke inside then I reserve the right to use their security deposit to have it cleaned and fumigated once they leave. Besides this, my tenants did not exhibit any other red flags, and they ended up being awesome otherwise. But the smoking thing is huge for me, as a non-smoker I would never rent a place that smelled like cigarette smoke because it permeates every single belonging you have and once it gets on your clothes and in your car it’s nearly impossible to get rid of (I suppose non-smokers are more sensitive to the smell than smokers). On top of that, my unit was brand new construction and I didn’t even let the renovators smoke in it while we were working on it, let alone allowing smoking in it once it was finished. Maybe not quite a red flag, but definitely a consideration since most smokers I know don’t even smoke in their own home/car, which I always felt says a lot about how destructive cigarette smoke can be to property.

  32. Susan Maneck

    Okay, enough with the Pits. My insurance doesn’t allow them so neither do I. A bigger problem for me is credit scores. No one in my part of town has a decent credit score. The only tenant whose credit score goes over 600 is my tenant with a HUD voucher! I therefore have to look at why their credit score is bad. If it is an eviction or failure to pay child support, they will not be considered. I let someone with an eviction in once and lived to regret it. And if you can’t take care of your kids you aren’t taking care of my property. But if their credit score is low due to medical bills, I don’t hold it against them. I do believe people are entitled to affordable health care and Mississippi refused to extend Medicaid to those who need it. We have millions who are still falling between the cracks.

    • Thank you for reading!

      I would say there are plenty of people in your area with a 600+ credit score if you market to them effectively. I have heard that FICO is coming out with a credit score than eliminates medical collections. That may also be a help in due time.

      If the only collection is with a medical bill, and they had plenty of income, I would likely accept them too. It is hard to come up with an objective method to do it though.

  33. Jerry N.

    Interesting article. Hadn’t considered parking/traffic violations previously, so something to think about.

    For the dogs, we have an established (and readily shared in early dealings with prospective tenants) pet policy and post in the ad ‘Pets are negotiable. Size/breed restrictions.’ Not only will we not rent to bully breeds (easy excuse – our insurance will drop us) we do not rent to owners of rodents or snakes either. BTW I laughed at the ‘lab mix’ being a pit as we’ve seen that too. We meet all prospective pets unless they are from out of state and we always require a vet statement regarding any bite history. We have a yard and it is only fair to all tenants that they won’t have any pet issues… or anything wandering through the walls.

    We also ask what work hours are. Anyone wanting to live in the basement can work night shift or graveyard, we don’t care. However, if you live above somebody… Sorry, but we have an old building and the floors creak. You will disturb the tenants below you and cause me problems.

    We don’t rent to professional musicians (or amateurs with more than one instrument) either. They are not a protected class. Even if you say you have a studio and never practice at home or late at night… Number and type of instruments is a question in our application. If you only have one instrument and it is drums, we aren’t renting to you either. Musicians aren’t a protected class.

    We haven’t rented to smokers ever. Even if you say you won’t smoke in the building… February and it’s -20 outside… you are smoking in the building. Smokers aren’t a protected class either. Fortunately, all our tenants have turned over and we’ve made our buildings no smoking and it part of the lease agreement now. We also put in all ads that the building is non-smoking. Also, anyone who is actually legitimately prescribed medical marijuana has other options for delivery than smoking.

    On the credit report and history, the only thing we will not hold against the prospective tenant is medical bills. Sorry but even if your spouse has caused you problems, unless you are divorced and were savvy enough to get these eliminated (with proof) as part of the divorce settlement, I don’t want to deal with your bad decision making. This hints to me that you may have other problems and other financial burdens too. This is risk mitigation and easily covered by our credit requirements including score and collections assessment.

    I love boring tenants.

  34. I read a lot of comments about the dog breed “issue” if you will. I personally wouldn’t make a decision to deny a tenant because of the dog breed they have. I would make the decision after I meet the dog in person. That way you can kind of get a feel for the dog and how the owner handles the dog. Just to add on that pit bull’s were originally breed to be nanny dogs. PEOPLE trained them to be aggressive later on! In my experience, working at an animal shelter, it is always how the people (owner and the rest of the family) influence, train or treat their animals that gives them their personality. Of course you always have to be cautious will ALL dog breeds. Retrievers and Labradors are getting just as aggressive as other high risk dogs due to over breeding.

    • Eric D.

      Thank you for reading!

      The problem becomes if your insurance company finds out about it, they may cancel your policy. And how do you come up with a 100% objective way to screen a dog? Fair Housing would dictate that all dogs must be screened the same too.

  35. Joni Renee Zalk

    I am a landlord in Colorado. This article was great! I’m both a realtor and a landlord and this is useful for both clients and tenants:
    -I look to see that the client/tenant LIKES the house. They should be already talking about where their furniture might go and who gets what room.
    -They should look me in the EYES when talking to me. Not darting all over the place (they are on drugs or lie-ing about something). They should ask solid questions as they are looking me in the eyes, “What do you look for in a tenant?” or “We like it, what is the next step in renting/buying this unit?” “Can you remind me what the deposit is?”

    • Eric D.

      Thank you for reading!

      Great points. Hopefully by the time I show a place to a tenant, the tenant is pre-screened and not on drugs… It is a great point. A tenant should be looking to move in when seeing the place, and picturing themselves in the apartment.

  36. I’ve been a renter for 8 years, and this list is legitimately ludicrous. I have great credit, a large dog, don’t owe money to anyone, and make enough money to pay my rent on time each month, and I’m still offended. Tattoos? Big dogs? Denying someone because they live with multiple family members or had to shack up in a hotel temporarily is outrageous and discriminatory.

    For the record, I have a German Shepherd mix, and live in a complex with no breed restrictions. That’s right, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and other “aggressive” breeds galore. There have been zero incidents. Educate yourself on animals and more specifically, breeds you deem dangerous before writing a public article. This is an embarrassment.

    I’ve never felt the need to comment on an article, so this is my first. I understand that as a landlord, you face specific risks you’d rather not deal with. That much is understandable. But, this article also demonstrates your lack of knowledge and small-mindedness.

    • Eric D.

      Thank you for reading!

      You may well be a great renter, unfortunately, renters with a profile with several of the red flags are high-risk. “Dangerous” breeds are excluded by a insurance companies, for good reason. While many are great, when they attack, they kill. And they typically kill a small child of the owner.

      I continually advise that using a credit score is by far a much better indicator of tenant quality. A tenant can fool the police, but cannot fool FICO. It is the best fair housing compliant indicator, bar none. Using the credit score as an absolute pass/fail indicator, along with income, is the best way to screen out potential bad quality renters.

  37. Eric Carr

    Where did you get your dog facts from? I take exception to the terms “pit bull apologist” because I operate on facts and knowledge. Not fear and hearsay.

    I have large dogs – all rescues, including a pit bull, of which I have photos with a group of 6 and 7 year olds, hugging and pulling on her face at a birthdy party a week ago.

    I allow dogs of any size appropriate to the dwelling in my properties – for both the health and concern for the dog and the unit.

    There are ways to screen the dog!

    • Thank you for reading. It’s interesting that you are so naive about pit-bulls. You can search the web for statistics. dogsbite dot org is a great place to look.

      Or you can read the news. Pit bulls often bite and kill their own family members. There is no way to screen a dog. You can screen for obedience, but when that unexpected stimuli occurs, a pit bull will attack and potentially kill. Maybe 99.9% are great, but a pit will bite and kill a lot more often than another breed, by at least an order of magnitude more.

      Make sure your insurance knows you rent to pit bull owners. If a renter wants to own a dog that most apartments will not allow due to size or breed, I probably do not want to rent to a renter with that level of intelligence…

  38. Yes. 80 percent of all dog bites came from pittbulls (which actually isn’t a breed) do you also know that of all those dog bites/deaths 80 percent of those were from un neutered male dogs ? Did you know that of all dog breeds (excluding bully breeds) in the US 80 percent of all dogs are spayed and neutered, but only 20 percent of all pittbulls are spayed and neutered? That makes up all the difference in your statistics right there alone. I have clients who have labs that attack people, and know of a 6 year old boy who was killed by his own 2 border collies. I personally do not know of anyone injured by a pitt. We always allow pets (if their owner is approved obviously) our insurance allows all breeds and so do we. We have NEVER had any issues with the pets. Not even damage. It has always been the people. We have had at least 4 Pitts that lived in our properties (tenants were very responsible, low risk ) and all must provide proof of spay and neuter and vaccinations, But we can charge on the high end because so few people allow pets! It has been a win for us! We also have a pit ourselves (found abandoned on the road last year) and she is a wonderful dog. They are very smart, and high energy, so they do need the right, attentive, consistent owners so the do not cause damage and find bad things to do with their time, but if they are neutered at a young age, they are no more likely to bite than another dog. Now I am not crazy, I know how strong even my spayed female is.. if she was aggressive, I would rather get bit by any other dog!!!

    • Eric D.

      80% of deaths (actually 71% the last time I looked) from from Pits, not bites. And generally pets take after their owners, Good owners generally have great pets. But even a docile pit bull still has a bad attitude buried deep it it’s brain.

      I just go by what our insurance says is risky and stay away from them. Why would a renter even want a pit bull when most landlords do not want them?

      • Ok.
        This is a question, not a comment, but I don’t know where else to ask this.

        School teacher for 14 years.
        Credit score 709.
        Moving to a new city. Seeking new job.
        Why is my $48,000 cashable pension not good enough to lease an apartment?
        A person with a job could lose it today and not have any more money.
        I have money, but no one will rent to me since I don’t have a job.
        What do I do?
        Offer to pay a year up front?

        Hotel until I land a job? I need an address in this new city.

        Please, all landlords and landladies, give me an idea of what I should do.

        • Eric D.

          Thank you for reading.

          I would count the pension just like a job.

          With a 709 credit score, it shows you know how the world is supposed to behave. You pay your bills, probably very seldom, if ever, were late.

  39. Is that a gross income of 3.5 x the rent or a net income? Just wondering as it makes a huge difference, especially for people who pay a lot for health insurance and child support.

      • I mentioned child support from the perspective of a tenant who is paying, not receiving. I’m a social worker and see people whose gross income looks good but they are actually only taking home 1/2-2/3 of it due to payroll deductions for garnishments, child support, and expensive health insurance. Looking at the take home gives a clearer picture of what they can actually afford.

        • Eric D.

          You are correct, although take home income is very subjective. There are retirement contributions, and other deductions.

          Credit score is a great indicator too. A person with a solid credit score knows what they can afford.

          Income will tell you the tenants ability to pay, credit score will tell you the tenants desire to pay.

  40. John Murray

    I make maximum amount of money when I can. I have rented to high risk tenants but there is a caveat. When a great long term tenant moves out and SF home rental needs considerable work I will rent to a high risk tenant, with kids. Kids are the key and all that I have done with high risk tenants have worked out great for making money. High risk tenants with kids are the way to go to stretch the reno money and buy some time. I’m renovating one at the moment to sell retail and came out about $20K ahead. Without this strategy I would have lost a bunch of money during a period of time I was extremely busy with other entrepreneurial activity. If a high risk tenant can add to your bottom line or buy you time it is a good thing. The high risk tenant will rent and pay top dollar if if the rental is not.

    • Eric D.

      Interesting strategy… I guess it depends on how much damage you want to fix. I rent often to people that I do not even have to clean the apartment after they move out. A simple touch up and and improvements I want to make.

      • John Murray

        All my rentals are SF Homes and I do all my own work. I have used the high risk tenant to maximize profit. The key is kids, be nice and most of all flexibility of payment. I have always been nice and received payment in full, not always on time. Cash strapped tenants are pretty resourceful when it comes to their kids. Keeping all the security deposit comes in handy too.

  41. Stephen Lee

    these numbers are VERY difficult to hit in my market. Rent on properties worth around 125k is around $1400-$1500 a month easily. 3.5x income on that would be $4,900 a month. Anyone who makes $60,000 a year and has a 620+ credit score would typically just buy here in Baltimore

    • Eric D.

      Thank you for reading.

      I think if you look at other larger properties in the area, their requirements may be more strict than I listed.

      Take a tour of an apartment complex and ask what their screening criteria is. I did that at several apartments near me. Some require a 700+ credit score, and that was several years ago, when the rental market was more to the renters favor.

      The average renter credit score is 658. The average income in your area should be easy to find.

      If you market correctly, and price right, you can find them. If you price too high, you get low-quality renters as you are currently finding.

  42. Jenna Zebrowski

    This is a good article, but I would urge caution under fair housing and anti-discrimination laws. Also, I’m not sure about the tattoos- I would hesitate to turn away an otherwise credit-worthy tenant just because I don’t like his or her ink. This is why we have references, etc.

  43. Ben Kornblatt

    I had a question for the group. In regards to selecting a tenant for a townhouse rental. Do people feel like they have difficulty finding tenants that are pet free? I am waiting to rent out my townhouse to mainly a non-smoker, non-pet owner (I love pets, just not in my rentals). I realize that it’s December and people may not be looking for a new place to rent, however I believe that I would rather have no tenant than a bad tenant. However, I also don’t want to have a large number of months of vacancy as well. Thanks for the thoughts/advice.


Leave A Reply

Pair a profile with your post!

Create a Free Account


Log In Here