Look for these tenant red flags

Good tenants can make your life as a landlord easy! Here’s how to find them.

Imagine your dream tenant. They are clean and respectful of the property. They always pay on time. They don’t cause issues with neighbors, and they’re easy to communicate with. They’re not always badgering you with requests and complaints, but they do let you know (respectfully) when there is an issue with the property.

So, does this person actually exist? Yes—there are people like that out there. We know that because we’ve been fortunate enough to deal with some truly enjoyable tenants in the past. But you can’t just leave it up to chance. It’s your responsibility to screen prospective tenants and do your best to determine whether they resemble the tenant of your dreams, or if they’ll be a disaster. Here are some red flags you should look out for when you’re searching for that perfect tenant.

Lots of Complaining

This is red flag #1 because it’s so common. Sometimes, in our initial conversation with a prospective tenant, the complaints come flying thick and fast. They go on and on about their previous landlord, talking about how their neighbors were horrible and noisy, the landlord didn’t respond to their needs fast enough, the property wasn’t well maintained, the apartment was too small. They might even start complaining about the property they’re visiting, saying that they don’t like the flooring or the layout.

Maybe they’re just having an off day and feel the need to voice their displeasure more than usual. Maybe their last property truly was awful. However, if they’re already complaining so much, it will most likely be difficult to make them happy when they live on your property. While a complaining tenant isn’t the worst thing in the world, it can make your job as a landlord more difficult. If the “lots of complaining” red flag occurs on its own, it might not be a big deal, but combined with other red flags it can definitely be a sign to keep searching for a different tenant.

Long, Drawn-Out Explanations for Everything

We get this one a lot, too. We ask the prospective tenant a simple question, and they start telling us their whole life story. They can’t just cut to the chase and answer the question— they let out a long string of excuses instead. This type of person often isn’t very trustworthy. They may do whatever they can to smooth-talk their way out of issues instead of owning up to them. If you let them live on your property, the excuses will never end. There’s obvious damage to the property when they move out? They’ll do their best to convince you the damage was there all along. They miss a payment? They’ll try to talk their way back into your good graces by telling you why it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t get the check to you on time.

If you can’t get straight answers to important questions like “Have you ever been evicted?” or “Can I get the name of your previous landlord as a reference?” you should look elsewhere for a tenant.

Rude to Family Members or Others

You can learn a lot about a person by how they treat everyone around them. Maybe the prospective tenant has been nice enough in conversations with you, but then, when they’re touring the property with their spouse or family, you notice some issues. Maybe they yell at their spouse or kids or lose control of their emotions. True, everyone has their bad days, but you’ll want to be wary of a tenant with anger issues or unstable emotions. Problems with neighbors could easily arise, and even damage to the property in extreme cases.

If you have a bad feeling about someone’s rude or angry behavior, just trust your feelings and move on. You want a tenant who will get along with you, the neighbors, and their own family—not someone who seems like a loose cannon.

Needs a Place Immediately

Sometimes people are VERY eager to move in. They keep asking how soon the property will be ready, wanting to move in within the week. That might seem like a good deal—after all, you want your vacant property filled quickly, right? But if the prospective tenant seems too eager, it’s a red flag. Question them thoroughly about why they need a place so soon. It’s possible that they got kicked out of their last place. Maybe they couldn’t pay rent and had to move out. Maybe they just got a cure or quit notice from their last landlord and they’d rather move on than fix whatever behavior caused their landlord to write them a notice. Maybe they’re living in a hotel or living with relatives because they ran into some kind of problems in the past, and they can’t wait to have a place of their own. Ask about all these things and do your best to get references from past landlords and/or employers if you need help making the call.

You can usually figure out if they need a place immediately for legitimate reasons or if their reasons are fishy. Just ask them lots of questions and trust your instincts on the matter.

Screening for Success

Just because prospective tenants display one or more of these characteristics doesn’t mean that they are 100% a bad tenant. You should still follow all the regular vetting procedures and use your own intuition when you’re deciding whether someone would be a good fit for your property. These are just some of the oft-overlooked red flags that we’ve noticed over the years. Pay attention to them—you will always lose more money on a terrible tenant than you would on a month or two of vacancy! It’s worth it to take the time to find your “dream tenant,” someone who will take care of your property and be respectful in all their interactions. Good luck!


  1. You want to fill a vacancy as quickly as possible, but choosing the wrong tenant can be a costly mistake that should be avoided at all costs. If your prospective tenant won’t agree to a background check, then that is a major red flag. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have something to hide, but without checking, you have no way of knowing. I’ve been on both sides of the issue and agree with the information you’ve posted. Thanks for the informative post!