Landlording & Rental Properties

How to Weed Out the Top Tier Tenants From the Rental Destroyers

Expertise: Commercial Real Estate, Personal Finance, Real Estate Marketing, Business Management, Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Investing Basics, Personal Development, Real Estate News & Commentary, Mortgages & Creative Financing
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When you are on the lookout for new tenants, it can be a tricky business. Sure, the screening process is pretty simple. I mean, all you have to do during the verification process is take a look at their previous rental history, background check, and employment verification. From there, your tenants will be compared with a pre-made criteria, and if they pass, you accept them. If not, you keep moving onto the next possible tenant.

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However, even a brilliant set of criteria has flaws to it. So, if you want a foolproof method of weeding out the good tenants from the bad in this gigantic sea of people, then be sure to keep reading to get a better understanding of the different characteristics that each one has. 

The Not-So-Good Tenant

Unreliable Income

Trust me, if your tenant just doesn’t make enough money, or if their income keeps fluctuating and you don’t know whether or not they will be able to make the following month’s rent, then you will definitely be stiffed sooner or later. Sure, a larger deposit does help to some degree, but it will simply not be making a large enough difference between profitability and money loss if you face to possibility of having to evict them. Keep in mind that a tenant should earn at least 3.5 times the rent in net income in order to stay safe.


Related: The Top 10 Rental Features That Attract Cream of the Crop Tenants

Bad Credit Score

While the credit score is generally associated with the risk of a tenant in terms of their ability to pay rent, a bad credit score actually has many studies linking it to an increase in risky behaviors. So the next time you check someone's credit score, be sure to think of it more as a "personal responsibility score." The credit score will tell you the tenant's desire to pay the rent, and essentially, it is a pretty good indicator of their future personal behaviors. If there is an outstanding balance in utilities for the prospective tenant, that is definitely a red flag.

No Respect

Trust me, every landlord who ever had a bad run in with a terrible tenant will say that this tenant had no respect for others. In fact, the likelihood that they had any respect for themselves was pretty minimal. Not only is this kind of person horrible to deal with, if they don’t even have respect for living, breathing people, how can you trust that they will respect your property and take good care of it?

Here’s a neat tip: Why don’t you call their previous landlord? After all, they would definitely have had experience with them in the past. Or perhaps if your potential tenant is new to the rental scene, it would be a good idea to ring up their employers or other references.

The Dream Angel Tenant

No Criminal Record

If your potential tenant doesn’t have a criminal record, then that is definitely a sign that works in their favor. Be sure that you use the county level criminal check that will have a full compilation of every open and dismissed case that your tenant has undergone. Trust me, you will want to know absolutely everything. From parking tickets to violence, this will give you a brilliant indicator of both their ability to abide by the law and their adherence to a structured lifestyle.


There is no doubt that this is one of the top factors that should be on your list. It is highly essential that your tenant is trustworthy, reliable, and decent. After all, you want to rent your property to someone who will do what he has agreed to — somebody who morally chooses to do the right thing.


Related: 6 Things Every Landlord Should Do to Win Over the Hearts of Tenants (A Renter’s Perspective!)


Personal hygiene is a major indicator of so many things. Not only will they be able to ensure that your property remains in tip-top shape, but people who are cleaner, neater, and tidier tend to set higher standards than those who are messier. While this rule is not set in stone, many studies have linked cleanliness to a person’s ability to listen to the rules and generally mean what they say.


To conclude, with all these awesome pointers in mind, you’ll definitely have one less thing to worry about on your journey to becoming a savvy real estate investor. Keep in mind that it’s crucial to have quality tenants. This can make or break your cash flow.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers.]

What tell-tale signs do YOU look for when screening tenants?

Let me know with a comment!

Sterling is an multifamily investor specializing in value-add apartments in Indianapolis and other Midwestern markets. With just under a decade of experience in the real estate industry, Sterling w...
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    Dennis Meppelink Investor from ERICA (7887), Holland
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Hi Sterling, Great advice from you, thanks for that. Some questions will come up while reading your post and all the comments. How about renters who currently live by their parents? How to check how clean the tenant is? Proberbly mom will clean the house, so you cant count on that. Are you gonna look in the bedroom of the tenant? It is also difficult to predict how well they are gonna pay the rent becouse he/she is not paying for ‘hotel mom’. Can you tell how you solve this issue? I hope you wil have an answere. Best regards, Dennis Meppelink
    Replied over 4 years ago
    How do you recommend that landlords cope with the new directive not to discriminate against felons?
    Ali Shan afzal
    Replied about 3 years ago
    These are generally good tips, and like any real estate you want to protect your investment. I think it’s worth noting, however, that some people do deserve chances for a good home despite missteps in the past. So while all the factors you listed are worth considering, people are more complex than a simple check list. Just some food for thought.
    Eric Eastep
    Replied about 3 years ago
    I like many of the ideas mentioned above. One criteria that has helped me is that I don’t rent to smokers. I realize that not all smokers are poor renters and I understand that smokers need a place to live, but many of the neighboring dysfunctional tenants are smokers. I see lots of drama and unit destruction with some of these tenants. I’ll stick with non-smokers and try to stay with the no drama tenants.