Can You Spot a Bad Tenant Early?

Posted By: Aaron DiCaprio Leasing , Tenant Screening ,

Not every tenant comes to you with a neon sign flashing above their head proclaiming, “I’m the ideal tenant” or “I’m going to cause trouble for you”. Sometimes, a tenant appears perfectly professional, personable, and put-together, and only shows signs of trouble once they’re in the property.

The majority of landlords have a screening process in place – and if you don’t have one, that should be a priority – to sort out the good candidates and the bad. There are a few things that every landlord should look into prior to signing a contract, including:

  • The tenant does indeed make the income that they claim to make (ideally no less than two-and-a-half times the rental price);
  • The tenant has a good credit history;
  • The tenant has a good rental history that can be verified by previous landlords.

Unfortunately, even with a screening process, the wrong tenants can still slip through the cracks and cause a potentially very costly situation for you in a few months, or even just a few weeks.

What if there could be a way to spot these bad tenants before you sign the contract? In addition to your screening process, consider keeping an eye out for these potential warning signs, and follow your gut: as stories from our clients have proven, your gut feeling is often the correct one.

Potential Early Signs of an Irresponsible Tenant

1. They have trouble with your questions or your application.

Unless your rental application is a long and detailed one that requires research and multiple drafts, a good candidate should be able to fill one out in your office, without too much effort. They may need to take a minute to verify the contact information of their previous landlords, or double-check their credit score, but if they leave multiple spots on your application blank or seem unwilling to fill out the application after the initial showing (while still being interested in the property), this could be a sign that they are trying to hide something, or just that they are disorganized and unprepared.

Similarly, if a prospective renter cannot give you clear, straightforward answers to your routine questions or if they grow defensive and evasive, that should also be something for you to consider. They might just be nervous and unsure of how to answer, or they could have something in their history that they don’t want you to know.

2. They’re rushing to rent.

Obviously, some situations can be out of a renter’s control. However, if you see a candidate who is clamoring to move into your unit in less than a week, this could be a sign that:

  • They’ve just been evicted from their previous property, or been served a cure or quit notice;
  • They cannot pay rent at their current residence, and have decided to desert;
  • They are planning on leaving their current residence without notice;
  • Their lease ran out and they didn’t make arrangements ahead of time. A disorganized and ill-prepared prospect is likely to be an unreliable tenant.

That being said, the prospective renter could simply have had a run of bad luck and be in this situation through no fault of their own. The bottom line? Always ask, verify what a renter tells you before the contract is signed.

3. Complaining, demanding, and haggling, oh my!

Most prospective renters stay on their best behavior during initial showings and meetings, because they want to impress you. However, some candidates might display different behavior. Make sure to take note if a candidate is overly negative (especially if they only have negative comments about all of their previous landlords), makes demands before they’ve signed a lease, or relentlessly tries to negotiate a reduced rent price. These are all signs of a tenant who is likely to give you excuses instead of timely rent payments. Verify their history with their previous landlords for another side of the story.

The Cost of a Bad Tenant, and How to Counter It

The best-case scenario is that your “bad tenant” will be a little loud, a little messy, and just a little late on their rent payments. Unfortunately, more often than not, these tenants’ months of unpaid rent and damage to the property result in high costs for you, even after they’re long gone.A robust and thorough screening process will go a long way in preventing these tenants from coming to your property. However, in the event that one of your tenants does default on his or her rent, Rent Default Insurance is here to reimburse you for loss of rental income in the event of a defaulting tenant. Interested in learning more? Contact us or apply for an instant quote today!


Rent default insurance has been widely available abroad in the United Kingdom and Australia for decades though it’s never really caught on here in the United States until now. Prior to Rent Rescue, rent default had gone largely ignored by the insurance industry.  Instead, landlords have relied on a combination of security deposits and tenant screening to protect their income. Now, landlords here in the US finally have a solution to this headache. For more information, please visit: www.rentrescue.com.