99 Warning Signs for Avoiding Bad Tenants

99 Warning Signs for Avoiding Bad Tenants

99 Warning Signs for Avoiding Bad Tenants

A few weeks ago I received an interesting message from a long time reader of our blogs with a link to a great resource they had put together that helps you figure out if your potential tenant is going to a good or bad one. They asked me to share it with you however it was just not that suitable for the process we take in Australia to screen tenants. So I had to make a few changes before it was appropriate for you. I have now made the tweaks and here it is.

Be sure to read all the way to the end because there is also a little present waiting for you.

1. They try and get you to lower the rent before they even see your house.

This is a sure sign that this tenant can’t really afford the property. Asking before the inspection means that the value of the property means little to them, they only care about the cost.

2. They haggle excessively over rent.

A tenant who haggles excessively isn’t going to have a good professional relationship with the person they pay their rent to.

3. They haggle over bond and move in costs.

Bond should be returned if a rental is left in good condition. A person who haggles over their bond has no intention of leaving their rental in good condition or simply doesn’t have the money. Either way, it’s not good.

4. They examine the smoke alarms very closely.

they examine smoke alarms closely

Indoor smokers who want to hide their sins will often disable or silence smoke alarms in an attempt to avoid detection.

5. They ask if the fire sprinklers ‘actually work.’

This is an important question for some when it comes to insurance. That said, it’s also an important question if you think a stray cigarette is going to set them off.

6. They claim to hear sounds or smells you don’t during the inspection.

You know those mysterious sounds or smells they claim to hear? They’ll hear them after they move in too, leading to endless complaints.

7. They reek of weed.

They reek of weed

Marijuana is not a subtle aroma. If they don’t notice the smell on themselves when they’re attending your inspection, they won’t notice it when the whole house stinks.

8. They’re drunk or tipsy.

They won’t even let you get a tattoo drunk, so it stands to reason that you shouldn’t be signing a lease that way.

9. They yell so loud the neighbors can hear during conversations.

They yell so loud the neighbors can hear during conversations

Some people have volume control issues. At the slightest sign of excitement or despair they get LOUD. Keep the peace of other tenants in mind, especially in half houses and units.

10. They ask if the screens come out of the windows.

Is this a safety concern? Of course. Does it make it a lot easier to lean out the window to smoke? You betcha. Hint: Tenants willing to toss their torsos out a window for a cigarette will rarely keep up the habit. Eventually they’ll get lazy and smoke indoors.

11. They ask personal questions about other tenants.

Some questions are appropriate, like ‘Are there pets in the building?’ and ‘Are there children living on the property?’ Others are less appropriate. If a tenant asks about the daily schedules of other tenants (within the same building), or whether or not the girl downstairs is single, renting to that individual could put current tenants at risk for burglary or worse.

12. They give off that creepy vibe.

They give off that creepy vibe

We all know not to judge books by their covers, but during an inspection you have little choice in the matter. If being around a tenant makes you uncomfortable, it will likely make other people uncomfortable too.

13. They ask to pay the bond AFTER they move in.

If they can’t afford to pay the bond before they move in, you’ll never get it.

14. They hate kids (and there are families in the apartment building).

They hate kids

Some people hate kids with a real vehemence that is matched by little else. If there are kids living upstairs or next door, don’t rent to someone who’s going to become a scary story for their sleepovers. This will also help you avoid the endless complaints from tenants who can’t stand the pitter-patter of little feet. (Always consider other tenants next door or upstairs to avoid ongoing complaints from both tenants).

15. All of their employment is in the past tense.

If they don’t have a job, it’s hard to pay rent. Unemployment can drag out unexpectedly, so don’t put yourself in the position of having to evict a tenant because their savings ran out.

16. Their self employment is in the future tense.

Their self employment is in the future tense

Renting to people who have their own business is great. Renting to people who ‘are starting a business’ is less great, because new businesses often need time to grow before they can support anyone. Ask to see the transactions going into their bank for proof of income.

17. They list their previous landlord as “Mum and Dad”.

Let’s face it. You can get away with ‘pay you next week’ to mum and dad. But not renting through you. They may not be ready for the ‘real world’ just yet. Perhaps their mum or dad would be willing to go on the lease with them.

18. They are related to all of their references.

Their uncle probably thinks they’re amazing. I know my uncles all think I’m the best thing around. For that very reason, they don’t make great references.

19. Their references sound like they might all be the same guy making different voices each time you call.

 Their references sound like they might all be the same guy

There’s always that one person who wants to cheat the system. Maybe they even gave each ‘reference’ a different phone number somehow. The point is that if this tenant thought this harebrained scheme would work, imagine what else they’re getting up to. Don’t let them get up to it on your property.

20. Too many adults vs bedrooms.

Too many people living in a house will wear your property out, just like an overloaded car. If you have a 3 bedroom house and more than 3 unrelated adults want to move in, you might be better moving onto the next application.

21. They make unpleasant comments about their neighbours before they’re even neighbours.

hey make unpleasant comments about their neighbors

One of the hardest kinds of tenants to handle is the one who makes everyone living near them miserable (on top of inevitably making you miserable) without actually breaking any rules. The person who makes snide remarks before they even move in will make twice as many once they live there.

22. They seem generally disinterested when it comes to the property.

People who want to rent a property but don’t seem to care much about the place itself are likely desperate for ‘just a house’. They could be desperate for a good reason or it’s just a very short term thing meaning you’ll be back finding new tenants in no time.

23. They only get paid cash.

Generally this means it’s a short term, unstable or illegal employment. Either way it’s not a great sign.

24. They passive aggressively insult the property, even as they discuss leasing it.

Some tenants will take this route when trying to put you on the defensive. They think they’ll get a lower rent if they act like they’re not happy with the property. Ignore their games and move on to another tenant who doesn’t try to play you.

25. A parent signs the lease, speaks and presumably performs all functions on their behalf.

It’s a good sign when first time renters have parental support. That said, parents should be on the background of all of your transactions, with the tenant (child) running the show.

26. They have trouble proving their income.

If they can’t prove in writing their income, they probably don’t earn it. Pay slips and bank statements are the best form of proof. It’s always best to triple check their income over the phone with their employer (or accountant) as well.

27. They excessively bag out their previous landlord.

These types of tenants will always complain about something. Don’t be the next one.

28. They ask why they have to fill out an application.

Either this person doesn’t understand the process of renting (in which case you can just explain it to them) or they’re trying to hide something they think the application process will reveal.

29. They put off signing things until the very last minute.

They put off signing things until the very last minute

People who don’t want to sign things are likely either unprepared for the move, hiding things from you or waiting on a better offer elsewhere. Either way, it’s not a good sign.

30. They can’t make a time to meet you.

Having a place to live is very important. People who can’t find the time to make arrangements for their new home are unlikely to follow through on their lease.

31. They need to move in immediately.

Many tenants who fear the verification/application process will try and speed through it by requesting a quick move in date. Make the arrangements if you can, but don’t skip any of the steps you have in place to protect yourself.

32. They get angry over your verification process.

They get angry over your verification process

Another manipulation tactic, this time trying to intimidate and bully you into skipping important steps. Most tenants understand they need to prove they are good tenants first.

33. They claim they paid rent to a fellow tenant who hasn’t paid this to you yet.

Lots of roommates use this tactic for simplifying rent payments. That said, everyone is equally responsible for the FULL rent amount (in a normal permanent rental situation). Never receive part payments from individual tenants, unless this is your last attempt to try and get atleast some rent before it gets spent on cigarettes.

34. They’re reluctant to give you personal information.

They’re reluctant to give you personal information

The information you’re legally allowed to have so that you can make smart decisions isn’t a large burden. If a tenant doesn’t want to give it to you, something is fishy.

35. Their personal information is inconsistent.

When names, phone numbers and ID numbers never seem to stay the same, someone is being dishonest with you. Check your tenant on the NTD (National Tenancy Database) to verify their identification.

36. They resist every step of the verification process.

Renting to a good tenant shouldn’t be a struggle. Anyone who resists you the entire way is hiding something from you.

37. They try to throw money around in an attempt to win favor over other applicants.

They try to throw money around

Everyone loves money, but some applicants will use it to try and skip the verification process. Don’t let a couple of hundred dollars at the beginning make you choose a bad tenant that will cost you thousands later on.

38. They assume you’ll choose them over other applicants and behave as though the property is theirs.

This is another way that potential tenants can try to bully you into giving them what they want. Remember that if they’ll bulldoze over you during the inspection and screening process, they’re going to try and do it again and again throughout your professional relationship.

39. They relocate frequently and can’t give you a good reason.

If they are known for moving around a fair bit, it will continue. Meaning, you’ll be back trying to find new tenants again very shortly.

40. They offer to pay a higher rent.

This can just be another way to help stand apart from other applicants but don’t be fooled into skipping the screening process. Treat it just as a ‘bonus’, don’t let them throw you off your game.

41. They were ‘unfairly’ kicked out by (multiple) previous owners.

People with this kind of victim complex have developed it carefully throughout a lifetime of irresponsibility and generally terrible behavior. If you rent to them, you’ll likely regret it.

42. All of their past landlords were incompetent.

There are incompetent property owners out there, but they tend to be in the minority. The likelihood that this tenant encounters them at every turn is very low.

43. All of their past landlords were jerks.

There’s a saying that if you meet one jerk, then you met a jerk. However, if you meet jerks all day then you’re likely the problem.

44. They can’t see things from your perspective.

If they have no understanding or empathy for you position having to check their application, they won’t later on.

45. There are going to be several people, but you’ve only met one.

There are going to be several people

Who are these people? You need to at least meet everyone who will be living in your property. If the tenant doesn’t seem keen for you to meet the other people, there’s probably a reason.

46. They have pets, but won’t provide any more detail.

One cat? Two? Ten? Either this person knows they shouldn’t have as many as they do, or they’ve lost count. Most good pet owners are more than happy to provide any information you need including photos. If they don’t deliver it’s definitely a red flag.

47. They offer to pay 6 months in advance.

This can be great, but again don’t skip the verification process. They might have savings now, but what happens when this dries out? They still need to prove they have the income to sustain the ongoing rent payments in 6 months time.

48. They were late paying rent to their previous landlord.

If the tenant was late paying rent for their previous landlord and now promise that won’t happen again, don’t believe it. Tenants never change from being late payers to good payers.

49. They have not inspected the property

This is common for tenants moving interstate. However ideally you want a tenant in your house who loves your property and not who just wants a roof over their head until they find something more permanent.

50. The inspection turns into a party with LOTS of people.

The inspection turns into a party with LOTS of people

Lots of tenants bring someone with them to an inspection for support. That said, a party of ten people is unnecessary and a sign that this person doesn’t do things on their own very well. You’ll might find you have answer to various other people which is very time consuming.

51. They show little interest in the condition and upkeep of the property.

There are two possibilities here. Either they don’t plan on living there and they are being dishonest, or they’re simply unconcerned with the condition of the rental and don’t intend to take very good care of it.

52. They litter while on the property.

Rude! If they don’t care where their rubbish goes now, they won’t care after they move in.

53. They drop cigarette butts in your yard.

They drop cigarette butts in your yard

Litter that smells like tobacco? No thank you! This person isn’t showing much respect for your property, and they aren’t likely to start after they move in.

54. They want a payment plan for the bond payment.

Sometimes money is tight, and that’s understandable. However, if a person isn’t capable of saving up a month’s rent prior to moving in, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to support themselves and pay rent after they move in.

55. They are significantly and consistently late for inspections.

They are significantly and consistently late for inspections

A potential tenant who does not call or sms you before the inspection they’re running late, it’s unprofessional and it shows that they don’t value your time. That’s not the kind of person you want to have a long term professional relationship with.

56. They nitpick at everything.

The person who scowls over the leaves in the yard or points out scuffs on the skirting boards is going to be at least that annoying when they move in. At that point they’ll actually have the right to comment, and comment they will. Over and over.

57. Their kids run wild during the inspection.

Their kids run wild during the inspection

If they aren’t controlling their kids while visiting a property that isn’t theirs, they won’t start anytime soon. Kids are twice as wild at home.

58. They argue loudly with their spouse during the inspection.

If they can’t keep it together in front of you, they certainly won’t when it’s just them. Having to listen to the interpersonal problems of your neighbors is no fun, so spare your neighbours the hassle.

59. They yell and curse at their children.

They yell and curse at their children

What’s worse than hearing someone verbally abuse their spouse? Hearing them verbally abuse their kids. This is not the tenant you want.

60. None of their references are professional relationships.

Even first time renters should have a references that include co-workers or employers. If they don’t, then they probably don’t have a lot of successful professional relationships, meaning that they might not be a great person to have a professional relationship with.

61. They answer your questions in the most indirect way possible.

When a yes or no question involves a long and drawn out story that never quite provides an answer, you’re in trouble. Explanations are OK, but answers should come first.

62. They clearly don’t take care of themselves.

They clearly don’t take care of themselves

If they aren’t bothered by their deteriorating health and hygiene, they won’t be bothered to look after your property.

63. They clearly don’t take care of their kids.

This is an even more serious situation. If a person takes care of themselves but their children are a mess, then they’re not going to care about the property. Reject their application (and in alarming cases, call the authorities.)

64. They don’t take off their footwear when you do.

They don’t take off their footwear when you do

This is a pretty basic sign of respect for another person’s property. If they lack respect during the inspection…you know the rest.

65. They object to a NTD (National Tenancy Database) check.

If they object to it, then they are likely hiding something. A shady past can be concern, but dishonesty regarding that past is a definite red flag.

66. A dramatic increase in rent from their previous property.

Tenants find it hard to budget for such large increases in rent. If your applicant was having even a whiff of trouble paying a lower rent at their previous place there is no chance they’ll pay your rent on time (unless they have had a very significant pay increase).

67. They become extremely demanding when it comes to upgrades and repairs.

As eager as you may be to fill a vacancy, don’t ignore this warning sign. Discussing any work you may be planning is a good idea, but tenants who make a lot demands prior to signing a lease are likely to make a lot more during the length of their residency. Note: it is fairly common for tenants to make a couple of kind requests at the start of a lease to help make the property feel like home.

68. They’re blatantly racist.

Sometimes it’s hard to pick out racists in a crowd, but sometimes they stick out like sore thumbs. People who hate others for their race will find LOTS of reasons to hate anyone, anywhere, and it can lead to some serious problems in the long run.

69. They delay signing the lease and paying the first lot of rent (deposit).

As soon as you give your new tenants the good news when you approve their application, you really should get first rent payment (deposit) and lease signed within 48 hours. If they delay this, they are either not prepared or simply waiting out for something better. Either way, it’s not a good sign. Keep your ad live until this is done.

70. They won’t give you specific info about everyone living in the property.

This can cause a lot of problems, because either they aren’t sure who will be living with them or they don’t want you to know. Either way, it’s suspicious behavior.

71. They smell.

If a person can’t be bothered to keep themselves clean, they certainly won’t be bothered over the upkeep and cleanliness of your place. (If you need to sniff a potential tenant, be discreet. Otherwise they’ll be telling stories about you instead of the other way around.)

72. They need to see if they can get the money together.

They need to see if they can get the money together

If they don’t already have the money together, move on.

73. They don’t return your phone calls

If they don’t return your phone call within 24 hours they can’t be that interested in your home or just don’t care enough. Move on with the next application. Time is of the essence.

74. They always have to get back to you on that… and they never do.

Finding a new home is a major life event. If a potential tenant doesn’t take that seriously, you shouldn’t take their application seriously.

75. Their primary focus during the inspection is on doors and windows.

In very rare cases inspections can be a pretense for casing a building for the purposes of burglary and theft. If a tenant is focused on entryways, exits and security measures without showing interest in the rest of the property, hurry them out of there.

76. They’re commuting a long way.

Commuters need homes too, but be weary if they’re going to be far away from their family. Commuters often overestimate their ability to handle long commutes and time away from their spouse and children. When they decide it’s too much, you’ll be left with a sudden vacancy.

77. They don’t have the right visa

Some people will break their visa conditions to stay in Australia. If your applicants are from another country visiting on a short term basis ask to see their visa and a passport. You don’t want them suddenly packing up and leaving without notice.

78. They’re moving for a job they don’t have.

They’re moving for a job they don’t have

Just like the overexcited students, people can hang all of their hopes on getting their dream job after they move. If they don’t get it, they’ll break the lease and you’ll be out of luck. Ask for their ‘future employers’ phone number to confirm their employment to be.

79. They’re self employed but won’t go into detail about what exactly they do.

Self employed individuals can get a bad rap when it comes to renting, and it’s often undeserved. That said, any self employed individual who can’t simply explain their chosen business is one you’ll want to avoid.

80. They want to snoop through the current tenant’s belongings.

If they don’t respect the belongings, privacy and property of the current tenant, they’ll likely behave the same way with their neighbors and your rental down the line.

81. They openly attempt to intimidate you.

They openly attempt to intimidate you

Some people are bullies. We all learned it on the playground, and later we learned that some bullies never grow up. Don’t put up with intimidating behavior from a potential tenant. It will save you a lot of hassle in the future.

82. You can’t get ahold of any references

Sometimes there’s a reason you can’t speak to any of their references. They either don’t exist or they just feel uncomfortable giving the tenant an average reference.

83. Past employers and landlords hesitate

Past employers and landlords hesitate

When you do get a hold of their references. Always ask, “Would you rent to them again” or “If you had a rental property would you rent to them”. If they hesitate, it’s not a good sign.

84. They demand to see the property NOW

If your tenant is demanding before you have even met them, I guarantee they’ll be worse after they move in.

85. They get angry about small and inconsequential things.

People who get worked up over the little things tend to make terrible tenants, especially in apartment buildings that aren’t well soundproofed. If a tenant goes into a rage every time their the upstairs tenant’s TV is too loud, the entire building can be affected.

86. They need a place for their band to practice.

They need a place for their band to practice

There’s a reason that garage bands exist, and it’s that nobody wants them practicing inside their home. This road leads to noise complaints.

87. Their car is filthy.

How people take care of their vehicle can often be an indicator of how they’ll take care of their home.

88. They’re dressed in dirty ripped clothes

Nobody needs to wear a suit and tie for an inspection, but if they look like they have not changed their clothes for 7 days you should pick a different candidate.

89. They want you to continue the inspection for an extra 30 minutes so their friends can see it.

This can be a sign of disrespect or simply disorganised people. You want organised tenants living in your house who are able to decide on a place to live.

90. They have no sense of personal space.

If someone stands too close or doesn’t respect personal space, this can be another sign of bullying.

91. They object to an employment check.

Either they don’t want their employer to know they’re moving or they don’t want you to talk to their employer. Either way, you should be cautious.

92. They ask you to lie or put incorrect information on the lease.

If they can’t sign the lease when it’s legal and honest, they shouldn’t be signing it at all.

93. They never seem to have any kind of ID with them.

People who never have ID on them might not be telling the truth about their identity.

94. When it comes to renovations, their first suggestion is knocking out a wall.

Tenants who immediately jump to big renovations will cause big problems down the road when their demands grow bigger and louder.

95. Their combined income is less than 3 times the rent.

For example if they’re combined income is $1,000 and the rent is $400p/w, each week is going to be a fight just to afford the rent and sooner rather than later you’ll come off second best.

96. They offer to do repairs and other maintenance work in exchange for rent.

It’s a sad thing, but people who want to make these deals are obviously concerned about making rent. As nice as it is for them to be upfront and try to make up for the shortcoming, you may want to avoid leasing to them.

97. They fill out half the application.

If they do a half job when applying for the property, don’t expect their attitude to change. Move on with the next applicant.

98. They argue with you at the inspection.

Don’t waste your time with them. Move on.

99. Your gut is telling you something.

If you have done all your checks but your gut instinct is telling you something is wrong, it generally is. Always go with your gut.

This is a lot to take in, but the good news is there are a lot more good tenants than bad tenants. It’s just the small handful of bad tenants you need to stay away from.

When checking through an application just keep these two questions in mind at all times:

  1. Can they pay the rent?
  2. Will they look after the property?

Theses tips come from over 10 years of experience so I hope you took a lot out of this.

I want you to have the same confidence I do when selecting tenants so I want to give you a little present to help you on your way.
First, I’ve got a full Tenant Application form that you can hand out to tenants or on email. The best thing is, the tenant can fill it out on the computer and just email it back to you.

Second, I have put together my full list of questions I ask references when checking a tenant application.


About Michael Gilbert

Co-founder & Joint CEO of Cubbi. Common Ground.

I started real estate in 2006 on the NSW Central Coast. Loved it but noticed too many owners and tenants were unhappy with the value most agents were giving or simply wanted another option that didn't involve doing it all themselves. That's how Cubbi came about.

  • Kim

    Couldn’t agree more with number 57!! If kids are running wild and being uncontrollable because the parent is either too soft or not bothered they may as well not bother filling out the application!!
    When I was in property management the signs I used for spotting bad or troublesome tenants were:
    1. Badly filled out or incomplete applications with documentation missing. If I couldn’t get a complete background & adequate references of the potential tenant, they would not be approved for renting the property.
    Some tenants don’t care andor don’t realise the importance about handing in a properly filled out application, others are trying to hide something. Either way an application form and the documentation attached are the only ways your going to be able to find out about someone, if you cant do that properly they should not be renting the property – the risk is too big.
    2. A well filled out application with a list of unrealistic demands that must be attended to before moving in or during the tenancy – if an application form is approved with the demands in place it means by law they must be met. Demanding tenants asking to paint walls or change fixtures & fittings or have things installed such as air conditioners are not going to enjoy the property they’re applying for and will continually demand and fight to get their own way, creating a disruptive relationship and also potentially causing more out of pocket expenses. They’re better off renting a more suitable property, then trying to change yours.
    3. Bad first impressions at the viewing – disruptive children andor adults, untidy appearances (except if they’re coming straight from work such as tradies or labourers), turning up in an old beat up car in bad need of repair, children running through the house, not respecting other people’s property if the house is still occupied, a huge family or group coming to view a small house, arguing or over-excited noisy exchanges are all signs that tenancy could be disruptive!
    4. Potential tenants who turn up late to view a property without the courtesy of calling to let you know – is disrespectful. You may want to rent your property but tenants coming to look at it also want to rent it!! If they are late and don’t bother letting you know and asking you if its ok to wait (no more than 5 mins) or even re-schedule its not a good first impression at all.
    5. Desperate tenants – the ones that need a property to move in immediately, even before your property’s available date are not a good sign at all. They may be desperate for somewhere to live, but your not desperate for someone to rent your property.

  • michaelgilber1

    Thanks for sharing your warning signs. I 100% agree with all them. I don’t think ‘desperate tenants’ got a lot of attention in this blog so I’m glad you brought it up.

  • Hum

    Totally agree! Beware of Arun Narwal. He has a VCAT order against him to pay damages and owing rent.

  • I have used credit score as a main basis for selecting tenants. It is a landlords #1 way to exclude bad tenants.

    Income will tell you the tenants ability to pay rent, credit score will tell you the tenants desire to pay rent.

  • michaelgilber1

    Are you in Australia? If so how do you go about obtaining a Credit Check? This is different to the typical ‘Tenant Checks’ agents use through NTD or TICA.

  • I am in the USA. I would think that Australia would have some sort of credit check system. I know Canada does, and you folks have the same Queen…