This is a guest post provided by our partner CIC, -experts in tenant screenings and background checks.

There are a lot of people on the move. Even six feet apart and masked, people need to find homes where they feel safe in an uncertain world. They need a home, and legal evictions or not, they’re going to look for one. While they look for the perfect place to perch themselves, you’re looking for the perfect tenant for your property. That requires strong, solid tenant screening, sure, but what else? You need to be on the look-out for renter red flags, those small signs that this tenant isn’t the right one for you. So, what do you look for? 

Obvious Flags

First things first, you know you don’t want tenants with a history of violence that could put your property’s neighborhood at risk. This doesn’t mean a shoplifting charge when they were fifteen, some drunk and disorderly at a bachelor/bachelorette party, or even some minor drug possession charges. Examples of renter red flags would be property damage, sexual assault charges, burglary, and more. Avoid using bright-line standards (overly broad language such as ‘no criminal offenses’ that doesn’t account for different state laws, time sense the offense occurred, or other notable factors) for this very reason, as you’re weeding out those who have habits of causing real damage, not a Stepford wife. 

Brightline standards are very black and white, such as saying ‘no one with a criminal record.’ However, using this stiff, unforgiving rule may block out some excellent candidates from your pool. An offense such as being found carrying a small amount of marijuana in a state that has since legalized may have minimal impacts on the quality of your applicant’s character as a tenant. While you may think of someone with a felony record as inherently violent, it may be that they were consuming an illicit substance in the wrong state, or, if they were in Iowa, they accidentally sold margarine as butter and were charged (yes, this is a real offense). There’s little reason not to rent to the guy who sold margarine, even though it’s a felony in Iowa.


If a tenant lies on their application, it is a bad sign. It can be something like a past address, previous landlord, or other notices. If they lied, it means they have something to hide and think that they can pull a fast one on you. Lying on the application is a big renter red flag that may indicate they are untrustworthy and is important to consider during your decision process. 

Unreachable References

You want to be able to talk to a previous landlord. This is someone who can really tell you what they were like as a tenant if they were clean, noisy, reliable, or disruptive. If you aren’t able to reach those references, phone, or email, that’s a problem. It’s possible that their previous landlord is a very, very busy person, but it is equally possible that they gave you a phony contact. Be careful making too many assumptions, but a nonexistent reference is no high point. Try asking for another reference or at least another form of contact before jumping to conclusions.

There are a lot of ways to find a tenant is right for you, and a lot of factors that go into deciding what you are or are not looking for. Keep this in mind while you decide what you are decidedly not looking for. 

PayRent is on a mission to build a rent collection app that fosters a positive and productive relationship between renters and landlords. We focus less on transactions and more on the people behind them.