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6 Kinds of Bad Tenants -- and How to Avoid Them

Bad tenants can kill your rental property business. Want to avoid them? Here are the six types to be aware of -- and the steps you can take to steer clear.

[Updated: Mar 04, 2021 ] May 11, 2020
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As a rental property investor, your tenants can make or break you.

Great tenants mean consistent income and fewer vacancies while bad ones mean just the opposite. They equal lost cash, more hassle, and a lot more in turnover costs.

Fortunately, a good tenant screening process can help you avoid the latter.

If you want to keep your rental property business running smoothly and profitably, here are the tenants you'll want to steer clear of -- and how to do it.

1. The ones who don't pay (or don't pay on time)

This is probably the worst kind of tenant. Your rental properties are a business, and when a tenant doesn't pay up -- or pays late consistently -- it can throw off your entire operation. It might even require entering the time-consuming and costly eviction process.

How to avoid these tenants

Your best bet for avoiding a poor-paying renter is to run a credit check during your tenant screening process. Make sure they're up to date on all their payments, that they have a decent credit score, and that there are no bankruptcies, collections, or other negative marks on their record. You should also ask for detailed information about their employment and income on your rental application, and be sure to follow up with their boss and previous landlord, too.

You might also consider enabling digital rent payments. Some tenants are just lazy and can't bring themselves to write or drop off a check on time. They may be much better about paying on time if debit or credit card payments are allowed. (They could even set up autopay!)

2. The ones who damage your rental property

Your money is riding on that property, and when a tenant does serious damage, it hurts your bottom line in a big way. And the worst part? You're often unaware of the damage until the tenant moves out and becomes unreachable (this is particularly common with seemingly "low-maintenance" renters who never ask their landlord for maintenance or repairs).

How to avoid these tenants

A good background check can help you avoid tenants who might be prone to damaging or stealing from your property. Get a criminal background report, and look out for a history of theft or vandalism charges. Just be sure to comply with Fair Housing Laws here.

You should also speak to any past landlords. What condition did they leave the home in? Was anything damaged or missing when they moved out?

3. The ones who won't leave

Squatters should be a legitimate concern if you're a rental property investor. Not only do they need to be legally evicted and forcibly removed in most cases, but they extend your property turnover time significantly. That means a longer time until you can get a new, paying renter on the property to cover those bills.

How to avoid these tenants

Ask for a detailed residence history on your rental application. If a prospective tenant doesn't fill this section out (or there's scant info there), consider it a red flag. You should also follow up with any previous landlords listed to make sure they left the property on time and in decent condition.

4. The ones who bother other tenants

If you have a duplex, triplex, or other type of multifamily property, this is a particularly difficult tenant to deal with. They might be too loud, they might have strange smells coming from their unit, or they might just be rude or abrasive to others on the property. Whatever the reason, they upset your other tenants -- and that leads to more vacancies and more lost cash down the line.

How to avoid these tenants

Ask their past landlords and even their employer about any behavioral issues you should be aware of. You could also think about requiring a previous neighbor's contact info as part of your rental application process.

5. The ones who sublet without your knowledge

Subletting can be a risky move, especially if you -- the landlord -- are unaware it's happening. Unless the original renter is thorough in screening the subletters, it could result in damage to the property or eventual squatting.

How to avoid these tenants

Your best bet here is to be super detailed about who can occupy the property in your lease agreement. You can also check for red flags in a tenant's application. Are they trying to rent a house nowhere near their workplace? Are they looking to use the property only part time?

Finally, you should check in on the rental often. Make sure you recognize the people and cars on the property, and take action as soon as you suspect unapproved subletting might be happening.

6. The overindulgent pet owners

Some pet owners go overboard. They might indulge their animals and give them the run of the house, or they might just have too many pets at once. These renters almost always result in damage to the property and, many times, make it hard to rent out once they've left.

How to avoid these tenants

If you do opt to allow pets on your property, have breed and size restrictions in place. You should also ask to meet the animal first to make sure the tenant is being truthful about these details. Limiting the number of pets a tenant can have is also critical.

Other ways to avoid a bad tenant

A thorough tenant screening process is key to avoiding all bad tenants -- not just those noted above.

Beyond that, though, you should also:

  • Follow up. Don't just ask the applicant for employer and past landlord contact info and not use it. Call those sources up and get more details on the potential tenant before moving forward.
  • Be patient. Take your time when looking for a new tenant. Rushing to fill a vacancy might make you less thorough in evaluating a renter (or just less choosy).
  • Have an iron-clad lease. Cover all the details, have the rental agreement reviewed by an attorney, and leave no room for error or misinterpretation.
  • Do a thorough property inspection. Be diligent when inspecting a rental unit before move-in, and ask your tenants to do the same. Make sure they know they're responsible for anything that's damaged once they move out.
  • Stay in touch. Keep in communication with your tenants throughout their lease. Stop by the property occasionally, too, to add some accountability.

Finally, have an attorney on hand just in case. You never know when a tenant relationship could turn sour, and having a legal professional you can turn to could help you avoid costly litigation or eviction.

The bottom line

Problem tenants can kill your rental property business, so pull out all the stops to avoid them. Need help doing that? Try these tools, and check out our Ultimate Guide to Tenant Screening.

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