Four Red flags to watch for when prescreening tenants

Four Red Flags to watch for when   prescreening potential tenants.

by James Miller

I have to start off by saying that the four red flags are not intended to be used as prescreening criteria, as landlords we should be aware of, and strictly adhere to, the federal Fair Housing Guidelines. I strongly feel that discrimination in any form is bad for the individuals involved and bad for the economy.

The four red flags are items that are intended to give hints as to the applicant’s ability to pay, and how they will treat your property.

1) Watch their reaction when you hand them an application.
After I have shown an apartment I will hand the person who just looked at it an application. If they are surprised by this or get a disappointed or frustrated look on their face, I know that there is probably something in their past that they realize will be revealed by a background or credit check.

I have even had people respond with “ oh, you need me to fill out an application?”  in a way that makes it sound like I am asking for a kidney.

My response to that is always “ Yes, everyone has to fill out an application.”

The next thing out of their mouth usually starts with “ Well here’s the thing….” and opens a window right into their problem zone.  This saves us both a lot of time,  as I quietly listen to them tell me about the very thing they were hoping to hide from me.

2) Look at the car they are driving.

If they can’t afford to put on a muffler, they might have trouble making the rent payments.

If you get a chance to, walk them to their car.  While it is a nice thing to do, it will also give you an opportunity to peek into how they live.  Is the car filled with trash? Good chance the apartment will be too.  Does it smell like smoke? You can feel confident that they will smoke in the apartment too.

Like most of these “Red flags” this isn’t conclusive, they may have had a reason to take the beater car that day.  I, myself, could afford a brand new car, but I choose to drive a 1990 GMC truck.

It can’t lose any more value and I am long past caring about door dings.

3) Do they seem overly concerned about the security deposit?

It is normal to ask about the security deposit for an apartment. I have a lot of people ask about it in their long list of questions.  If it is a focal point for them and they are mentally totaling how much they need to come up with , or starting to ask about whether or not they can pay it in installments, you might be talking with someone you will have to evict a couple months later.

The money you get as first months rent and security deposit (it is customary not to get a last months rent where we are at) is the only real protection you have.

The more money you get out of a tenant up front, the more leverage you have on them to do what you need them to.  Evictions, turnover and lost rent cost too much to take a chance on someone who is running their life at financial redline.

4) Notice the level of respect they show.
Not just being polite toward you, but things like whether or not they show up on time for the apartment showing, If they call when they tell you they will, etc.

Watch for the level of respect that they show the apartment. Do they wipe their feet before they walk in? Do they bang the closet and cupboard doors open and closed, or are they careful enough to pause slightly before letting the doors go shut?

These subtleties can indicate how they live their life and their level of respect for other people’s things. It can be a good indication of how they will treat the apartment and you.
As an example of this, I had some Spanish-speaking applicants who took their shoes off before coming in to look at the apartment. While it is a nice apartment, I didn’t consider it “take your shoes off” nice.  After doing a proper screening I took them on as tenants.

To this day when I stop by, I see their shoes lined up at the entrance to the apartment. This is the level of respect they have for the apartment and it carried through right from the showing.


2 Responses to Four Red flags to watch for when prescreening tenants

  1. Alex says:

    James, I recently wrote an article “How to screen a prospective tenant” for and noted the same “red flag warnings”. We are on the same page when it comes to pre-screening potential tenants. For landlords just starting out, taking note of the above points when meeting a prospective tenant will help you to select a quality tenant that you will want to keep – as it is always nice to find a great tenant that takes care of your rental and shows respect for your property.

  2. wildpen says:

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for commenting… I swear I didn’t read yours first and copy it…. : )

    I think we landlords tend to share some common problems when it comes to dealing with tenants.

    I always thought it would be neat to make a CD of the strange, scary and downright rude message I get as a landlord, often from tenants.

    I like the looks of your site. Any landlord reading this should take the time to check it out at:

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