7 Types of Tenants Who Cause MAJOR Landlord Headaches

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Tenants are the lifeblood of the landlording business. But as landlords, we don’t want just anyone as our tenants. We want good quality people who will pay, stay and respect our properties. We want tenants who will not cause problems, either to us or to our other tenants. We landlords already have enough problems to deal with, and the last thing we need is to add to those by selecting a tenant that will make numerous unreasonable requests, burn up the phone lines or just be a general pain.

Tenant screening is one key to finding good tenants. Another key is being aware of characteristics that can signal a potential problem. Over the years, experience has shown that there are several characteristics landlords should beware of and that are worthy of further investigation. I’m not saying that the following characteristics always present a problem, just that years of experience have taught me to look deeper and be a bit more cautious.

7 Types of Tenants Who Cause MAJOR Landlord Headaches

1. The Storyteller

The storyteller has always got to explain things before he answers your questions. Even the simplest questions that should require only a yes or no answer come with a long and convoluted story. For example, if you were to ask, “Have you ever been evicted?” instead of a yes or no answer, you are like to get a response such as, “You see there was this time when my roommate…”

Be careful with the storyteller. Listen to the stories if you want to, but understand that the storyteller often thinks they can gloss things over and smooth talk their way into your property. Beware and don’t fall for it.

2. The Momma’s Boy

You know the type — the child who just can’t seem to cut those apron strings. Despite being 30 years old, they have never really made a decision on their own in their entire life and have not had to. Mom (or Dad) has made all of the decisions for them. This type shows up to apartment viewings, lease signings and other appointments with mom and/or dad in tow. They never talk to you; rather, mom does all the talking, negotiating, etc.

Related: How to Be a Landlord’s Dream Tenant — and Get into Any Rental You Choose

Does this mean mom and dad coming along is always bad? No. But you can usually tell the child who is trying to spread their wings from one who has been coddled all their life. Beware of this type of applicant. Have they ever held their own job or been on their own before? They often have no clue how to live on their own or how to manage their lives. They and their mom could be a load of problems down the road.

bad-tenant

3. The Spoiled Deadbeat 

This type also has mom and/or dad in tow, but they are really excited to tell you how wonderful their kid is and how great a tenant he or she will be when the kid is indifferent and unengaged. The parents offer to pay the deposit, co-sign, anything to get you to rent to their wonderful kid.

Beware. There is potentially something wrong that they are trying to dump on you. Most likely they just want them out of the house. But you have to ask yourself why. What is wrong with this kid? Perhaps it is nothing. Or perhaps the kid is a lazy deadbeat.

4. The Perfectionist

We have all had a perfectionist in our lives at some point. They drove you crazy, didn’t they? Nothing is ever good enough. Do you want to let one live in one of your properties? Will anything ever be right for them, or will they constantly harass you with phone calls about this little thing or that little thing? Beware of the perfectionist.

5. The Complainer

The complainer often shows up and very quickly lets the tongue start flapping: “My last landlord never fixed anything.” Or perhaps, “The property was never maintained, and the other tenants were trashy.” “Will that be fixed?” “This room is really small.” “Who lives next door? I don’t like a lot of noise!”

The complaints go on and on. And they likely will go on and on if you let them in your property. A bit of complaining is normal. But beware of anyone who complains too much.

6. The All Cash Dealer

The all cash dealer looks and sounds really good. They wave a lot of cash in front of you stating that they can pay the deposit along with first and last month’s rent today. They might even say they want to pay a year’s rent upfront. Sounds great, right? But you have to ask yourself why they are doing this.

Related: The Top 14 Tips Landlords Wish Their Tenants Knew

Sure, there could be a multitude of legitimate reasons, but it is not normal. Paying a year upfront is not how things are normally done. Could they be trying to hide something? Maybe, maybe not. Again you need to beware. Plus, think about this — how do you evict someone who has paid a year of rent upfront if things go south? It is possible, but a bit more difficult.

cash-tenant

7. The Space Cadet

Ever have someone get lost five times while trying to make it to a showing? Could they never seem to get the correct address or the correct time to show up? You might be dealing with a space cadet, and again, you need to beware of letting this person into your life. Can they remember to pay the rent on time, or will you constantly be calling them? Will they be able to care for your property? Again, the answer is maybe or maybe not. You just need to dig a little deeper to be sure they are nothing more than a bit directionally challenged.

Remember, I am not saying that folks displaying these characteristics should automatically be disqualified. What I am saying is that you need to be on the lookout for these characteristics, and if you see them, beware. Check out the stories, review the cash dealer’s background, talk to the complainer’s previous landlord and current boss. Remember that rudeness and promptness can count. Remember also not to discriminate against the protected classes and to have your selection criteria written down and on file.

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

What characteristics do you look out for? What makes you say “no way?”

Leave a comment below, and let’s help each other avoid bad tenant situations!

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

60 Comments

  1. good points !
    Especially about an applicant who complains too much—- the applicant who has all kinds of stories about their “past bad landlords” – we just had one of those look at a vacant property– — she had all kinds of stories about her past two “bad landlords”– it ended up that she had been terminated by both landlords for not paying her rent — also avoid anyone who answers your specific rental history questions evasively or indirectly —

  2. David Cook

    This hits the nail on the head. I have a perfectionist at the moment, so far a month hasn’t gone by without at least one complaint of some kind or another. The upside is that he has kept his unit in immaculate condition and the rent has yet to be late.

    • Kevin Perk

      David,

      Good news on getting the rents and keeping the place maintained. I hope that outweighs the types of complaints you are getting (I know the feeling). If they are minor, one can generally deal with it.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment,

      Kevin

  3. Amy A.

    I have shown properties to all of these people! I’m glad to see they’re not just in my market. One kid showed up with his mom half asleep with dried toothpaste around his mouth. Another one told me her current landlord has dementia and was trying to evict her for no reason. He’s the president of the Landlord’s Association so I called him up and asked him if he has dementia. We had a good laugh! (but he was sorry that I wouldn’t take his deadbeat tenant.)

  4. I couldn’t agree more. Especially about the story telling. Lets be honest the tell story is usually nothing more than a lie and sometimes a really big fat lie. I have a policy in place and it is simply this: “I’ll let your problems be your problems and my problems be my problems.” This is a business not a therapy session. No headaches!

  5. Don’t forget the over friendly tenant that wants to be your friend and thinks the relationship is anything more but landlord – tenant.

    Then there is over the top Jesus tenant. Over the top Jesus tenant (also applies to employees) will condemn you to hell the first opportunity they can when they are behind on rent or get reprimanded for not following the lease. Over the top Jesus tenant will pray for you in these situations as if that is going to change anything. So it’s not all bad, who couldn’t use a extra prayer regardless of how condensing and insincere it may be.

  6. Christine O'Meara on

    I hope I don’t have to go through any of these this year, that I made a good choice of tenants last year.
    Otherwise, these are extremely true and good points! Screen and research well and hope that the good ones stay for a while…

  7. Bill Bell

    Indeed, the “perfectionist” can be a risk, but also a great tenant IF they are also not a “complainer.” Of course, these two character types also seem to usually go hand in had; however, if you can find a non-complaining perfectionist, they can be great tenants. I have had both and the non-complaining perfectionist kept to himself, but left the place in immaculate condition at departure. The complaining perfectionist…. well they left the place immaculate at departure, but were also a major headache with requests so minor, I could not even hire a cleaning crew to complete!

    • Kevin Perk

      Bill.

      I agree with you. Sometime the good aspects will outweigh the bad. It can be really hard to tell which side will be more prevalent at times. Experience really does help in these situations.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  8. keith gehring

    My best advice: Be very cautious to rent to a person who works at a law firm: Lawyer, Legal Asst., Paralegal. I just evicted one who knew all the right things to say before they moved in, then after they moved in, they know all the landlord rules/laws, and they know how to work the system……to their advantage.

    Be very wary!!!

  9. Ernest Porell

    Watch out for reallt affable guys. Middle aged. Too easy going. You can bet on a serious crime on record. Hiding explosive or devious peesonality.

    Do background on people who’S family you know but not them personally.

    Never rent to a friend.

    Beware those who hit every point.. neat nic. Dont like noise. Once in a while have a ‘couole’ of drinks. They’re exact opposite.

    Grill em on the drinking, guests, and anything that moght show on record

  10. Jason A.

    I could add an mini-encyclopedia of red flag applicant types. One of the more vexatious ones I would classify as “The Blatant Liar”.

    One of the application questions I had was “Have you ever been evicted?” An applicant (older woman) had applied and was repeatedly phoning me to ask the status of her application. While I was at the courthouse checking the local eviction records (this was a few years ago when eviction records were a little harder to come by), sure enough, I saw her name on the docket. And she had answered “no” to the eviction question. So next time she phones me:

    “Have you rented that house yet? I’m really interested in it.”

    “Well, no ma’am, I haven’t, but as I was checking your application, I noticed your name appeared on the eviction list. Was that you?”

    “Yes.”

    “You’re being evicted? You lied on your application?”

    “Yes.”

    “I throw out any application where the person has lied. Why did you lie?”

    “Well, would you have rented to me if I had told the truth?”

    That’s a true story, folks.

    Moral: a little research goes a long way. Do your homework, gang.

  11. I would add that you should not rent to people with out of control children. I once had a couple whose children lit a firecracker on the kitchen floor of my rental while they were filling out the application. They seemed like nice people, but they have a kid that I cannot afford in my house.

  12. Michael Krizmanich

    I have seen many combination of types in one or two tenants. Michelle: children are a protected class. Jason: I also just evicted a blatant lair who also claimed to be a “born-again Christian.” In the end, they claimed their daughter had suddenly developed a heart problem around Christmas and that was the reason they could not pay the rent. The funny thing was that they did not take into account me looking up on-line and finding their daughter’s Instagram page where she was boasting of taking 2nd place in a state cheerleader competition 2 days earlier. Taking a snapshot of her page for the courts: priceless! I didn’t get the chance to tell them, “you sow what you reap.” Amen!

  13. Michael Krizmanich

    Anyone know of any savvy comebacks to being asked to reduce the rent upon the first showing? I get this alot. People approach you without even filling out an app yet and ask if you are willing to come down on the rent. The conversation starts out with them saying something like,” but we are excellent tenants and feel you would want us, so are you negotiable on the rent?” The last tenant I evicted also tried the same line. My feeling is like, “why should I negotiate down and I have not even seen what you look like on a credit application.” It seems kind of presumptuous – like someone asking for a higher salary and yet not filling out a job application. My wife says that she can see their inquiry as valid. I do at times and then I don’t. People EXPECT you to be there within 24 hours to fix things WITHOUT any excuse, they expect you to pay the taxes and maintain the yard, etc. Do they think money grows on trees? Just wondering how others handle the question of lowering the rent.

  14. Michael Krizmanich

    As long as a tenant has good credit and their income and references fit, I would not care if they work at a law firm. Besides credit, criminal and eviction history, the other dynamic is “crazy.” This can be regardless of what job they do. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to require Rorschach tests or Psyche profiles. My feeling is that if an applicant is “crazy,” it will eventually bleed out through their past dealings with other landlords, jobs and through their credit. We need to look past the desire to like them – that is something I have learned -to not ignore those small red flags. Unfortunately, those that are (how do I say it) professional hemorrhoids, know how to paint a picture and fool the unsuspecting landlord. Eventually, you learn the hard way (which sadly, is always the best way) and become a better landlord or just sell your properties and call it a day.

    • Kevin Perk

      Michael,

      Things do bleed out. And sometimes it just takes experience to see them. That’s why we are all here. To share and learn and hopefully save someone else the problems we had to learn the hard way.

      Thanks for reading and sharing,

      Kevin

  15. Great article, with 2 evictions and a third one on the way within a year, I definitely need to pay more attention to screening our tenants. The first eviction we did was, in all honesty, for the people who came with the house we had bought, who were crackheads and squatters. Second eviction was only a couple of months after renting out the house. The stories started, that kept changing, we should have checked eviction history. One house we’ve rented to a coworker who seemed like a great person, but has regularly fallen behind every month. Now we’re several months behind and starting the eviction process. Definitely NEVER rent to a friend/coworker.

  16. ihe o.

    When I was on study abroad I paid a years rent up front and got a 10% discount. Now with that out of the way I will say this.

    Bad mouthing the people who pay our bills is a smug and deplorable character trait.

    Thank you.

  17. Julia Rowling

    Sounds like the author may be a bit of a perfectionist himself! Let’s face it, the “perfect” tenant rarely appears. Many, if not most, people who are renting homes are “trouble” in some way or another: young and inexperienced, unable to manage finances, can’t hold down a job, transient, hesitant to make a commitment, and so on… If you reject people based on the criteria in the article, prepare for a lot of vacancies.

  18. Terrence Arth

    Hi Julia, I can appreciate your comments and point of view. I would note however that the author qualified his comments not once but twice. From my perspective, for a relatively small rent amount monthly, I am trusting a very large asset to someone I don’t know. An asset I might add, that I am responsible for. If the home gets put out of service by a bad tenant, I still have payments to make. You might hand over keys to a hundred thousand or quarter million dollar asset in exchange for $XXX per month with a minimal security deposit. To me it is all risk mitigation. By observing people, looking for traits, habits and activities that indicate probable non payment or other negative outcomes you can possibly eliminate potential issues. As a business person, I feel you owe it to yourself to reduce your exposure, backend work and stress IMHO. Even if it only saves you some sleep at night.

  19. Alex SImon

    This list was hilarious to read. To be honest, I was that “Mommy’s Boy” at one point. It was less about being coddled and more to do with the fact that my mom is one of those people who’s way too good at everything. Heck, even now she’s acting as my boots on the ground, checking out prospective properties and catching things that the building inspectors miss. She walked into this unit three weeks ago, looked around real quick and asked, “how long ago was the grease fire?” Nobody, not the landlord or the property manager or anyone else, had even known about a fire, but my mom did the Sherlock thing and eventually the current tenant confessed to repainting the walls to cover up smoke damage.

    So in short, maybe that 30 year old man-child isn’t a waste at all. Maybe he just knows that his parent has mad skills 😛

  20. Todd Linton

    Thanks Kevin for the insightful and somewhat comical read. Been at this a couple of years now and you really do need to develop a sixth sense when dealing with applicants. The real problem is turning them down with high vacency rates. Hopefully I will think back to this article when tempted so thanks again.

  21. Dan Tukker

    Another one I look at on criminal background is petty items like several tickets for no insurance, expired license, driving without a license, etc. They paint a picture of irresponsibility. If they aren’t concerned about those items, why would they care about taking care of my property or paying their rent on time or even honoring a lease. Good read. Thanks.

  22. Mathew Giovanello

    I had professional tenants lie there way in, had two kids in high school in a nice upper class area totally bamboozled me and my realtor.
    The one thing looking back was the husband never showed up to sign the lease at the realtors office, she said he was working. The real reason was he was not presentable at all and I figure they had drug issues.
    Never again on that one, I want to meet both people and also full background check service. Trust but verify.

    Hard lesson learned, lost about 15k.

    She drove a nice brand new Cadillac Escalade though, wonderful people.

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