What are Some Red Flags in Tenant Screening?

red flags in tenant screening

When it comes to renting a property, tenant screening is a crucial step for helping landlords find reliable and responsible tenants. However, not all tenants are created equal—and some may not be a good fit for your property. That’s why it’s important to watch out for red flags during the tenant screening process. By identifying these warning signs early on, you can avoid renting to problematic tenants and ensure your property is protected. With that in mind, here are some of the most common red flags to watch for. 

Keep in mind that this is for information only and is not intended as legal advice. Laws may vary based on your location. 

Common Tenant Red Flags

  • Bad credit: Bad credit can be a red flag, as it indicates the tenant may have a history of not paying their bills on time or defaulting on credit cards or loans. A low credit score can also be an indicator of a high level of debt or a history of financial instability—which could mean they’ll have difficulty paying their rent on time. 
  • Eviction history: If a tenant has been evicted, it suggests they violated the terms of their lease agreement, such as causing excessive property damage or failing to pay their rent on time. If they’ve only been evicted once, and have an otherwise spotless rental history, it’s worth asking them about the reasons for the eviction before making a rental decision. Multiple evictions, however, show a pattern of worrisome behavior. 
  • Criminal record: Although landlords cannot have a blanket policy that states they won’t rent to people with a criminal background, they can legally deny applicants whose crimes have demonstrated a lack of respect for the safety of other residents or a previous landlord’s property—such as violent crimes or property damage. 
  • Verifiable landlord reference: One of the best ways to learn about an applicant is to talk to their previous landlord about their renting behavior. For example, did the applicant have a history of late payments or terminate their lease early? How much of their security deposit was refunded? If the tenant had a history of paying their rent late, violating the terms of their lease, or causing significant property damage, these are red flags that they’ll likely continue to be a poor tenant. 

A standard tenant screening report and tenant verification report will contain all of the above; however, screening applicants starts the first moment the applicant contacts you. You can determine a lot about an applicant based on this first point of contact, such as:

  • Did the applicant follow the instructions in the vacancy ad? For example, did they call when you requested an email?
  • Did they disturb the current tenants when you asked them not to?

The way an applicant acts during your first interaction with them shows how professional they are and how well they can follow instructions. A responsible, respectful applicant will likely act very similarly as your tenant. Start taking mental notes at your first interaction and keep an eye out for the following subtle red flags:

  • Complaints about the rental application: Most tenants know that they’ll be expected to complete an application as part of the rental process. Tenants who have nothing to hide will have no trouble filling out the application completely. If an applicant questions why they have to provide certain information or why you want to verify their employment, credit, or references, they may be trying to hide information that could disqualify them for your rental. 
  • Blank spaces and mistakes on the application: If an applicant is serious about renting from you, they’ll treat their rental application like a job application. Much like an employer, landlords should move partial applications or applications with numerous mistakes to the bottom of the pile. Although a misspelled street name or inaccurate telephone number could be an honest mistake, it can also be a sign that the applicant is trying to mislead you. Likewise, blank spaces on application questions can indicate that the applicant is trying to hide something or isn’t serious about renting from you. 
  • Resistance to providing their social security number: There’s no question that identity theft is a very real and serious problem, but serious renters should understand that social security numbers are needed to conduct a credit check and other types of tenant screening. 
  • Family member’s address: Although there could be a legitimate reason for an applicant to say they’re living with a family member, it could also be an attempt to mislead you. It’s not uncommon for individuals who have poor rental histories to say they’re living with a family member or ask them to be a rental reference. 
  • Moving around a lot: Most landlords want to find reliable, long-term tenants. If a tenant has moved around a lot, it could indicate that they’ll be a short-term tenancy—even if they say otherwise. If a tenant has moved more than three times within the last five years, it’s important to get an idea of why. Did they fall on hard times? Are they hard to please? Do they have trouble holding a steady job? 

Find the Best Tenants for Your Properties

Although there may be several red flags that make you reluctant to approve an applicant, it’s important to remember that you must always stay compliant with federal and state rental laws. If you choose to deny an applicant, you’re required to give them a legitimate reason if they ask why. Be sure to follow the Fair Housing Act regulations and apply the same rental criteria and screening processes to each applicant. 

Tenant Screening Center’s RentalConnect service is an ideal option for many landlords, as there are several levels of reporting available to choose from, all while deferring the cost of the screening onto your applicants. It’s easy, convenient, and available online 24/7. If you have any questions about RentalConnect or any of our other screening services, feel free to contact us

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