How to spot a bad tenant - before they move in

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Tenant screening and selection are essential skills for landlords to have. Here are 15 tips to help you avoid undesirable tenants.

Most landlords conduct basic screening before they allow a tenant to move into their property. They look at things like credit reports, employment and bank statements as well as references from previous landlords. In theory, this should provide more than enough background information. Unfortunately, glancing over all of the documentation described above and assuming that all is in order can come back to bite. It may be wise to delve a little deeper into the lives of those who want to rent your home in order to ensure all is well.

Here are 15 tips to help you avoid undesirable tenants:

  1. Ensure every prospective tenant (including family members and friends) fills in a questionnaire to determine their employment history, credit commitments and who they have rented from in the past. Be wary of those who are reluctant to do so, regardless of how well you think you know them.

  2. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into making a decision. Check all references, do a credit check and speak to previous landlords before handing over the keys. Listen to what previous landlords have to say and avoid a tenant if the landlord hesitates when asked if they would lease a property to that particular person again.

  3. Don't be fooled by those who are willing to pay a substantial amount up front because this in no way guarantees that you will receive payment once the rent becomes due. Bank statements should always be checked to ensure the tenant can afford to rent the home and will be able to pay the rent going forward.

  4. Unscrupulous tenants will often go all out to impress a potential landlord and may well offer to pay the deposit before all the relevant checks have been done. Be careful of those who flash the cash and certainly don't forgo any checks simply because the tenant seemingly has enough money for the rent.

  5. Trust your gut instinct and don't rent to someone who makes you feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

  6. Avoid those who question or attempt to flout your rules before they even move in. No pets means no pets, regardless of how well behaved the animal appears to be.

  7. Be alert to signs of drug or alcohol abuse. This is often easier said than done, but don't rent to someone who appears drunk or under the influence of drugs every time you meet.

  8. Be careful about renting to a person who has a history of moving frequently. Tenants tend to move far more than homeowners, but a person who regularly changes addresses should be investigated further to ascertain why.

  9. Check the employment history carefully and avoid those who seemingly flit from job to job.

  10. Avoid a tenant who attempts to negotiate the rental or has a past history of paying late.

  11. Consider renting your home to someone else if the prospective tenant starts finding fault with the property from the moment they walk through the door.

  12. Be careful if they want to pay the deposit after they’ve moved in, or offer to pay the deposit off over a period of time.

  13. Be cautious when renting to the self-employed, particularly if they have only recently started working for themselves. Cash flow can a very real problem in a new business venture.

  14. Be wary of those who only provide family members as references or those who are unable to provide contact details for their references. Do not accept written references at face value, call and speak to the listed person.

  15. While there's no doubt that some landlords have the ability to make a tenant’s life miserable, it's unlikely that every landlord who has ever rented property to your prospective tenant has been unreasonable. There's generally good reason why a landlord has booted a tenant out of their property and it's advisable to avoid these tenants like the plague.

There are always risks associated with renting out a property and nothing in life (apart from death and taxes) is guaranteed. People’s circumstances can change and this could impact on their ability to pay the rent. Landlords may not be fortune tellers, but they certainly can and should be looking for signs that the person who wants to rent their home is the right candidate.

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