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They don’t mean to, but things just happen to them. They aren’t conniving and deceitful, just unconscious. These are people who go through their lives making one bad decision after another, who have a black cloud that follows them around raining (or worse) on everything they try to do, and who wonder why they “never get a break.” They simply blunder through life. These folks actually may not even know what they do puts them decisively in the category of “bad tenant.”

An unconscious tenant can be, and often is, exasperating. We know they mean well and that they don’t intentionally do all those things that make them unacceptable to live in our properties, but they do them just the same. Actions are what count far more than the intent.

What are the characteristics identifying bad tenants?

First, they don’t take care of their homes. They can be messy, filthy, and generally unkempt and they break things.

Second, they don’t pay the rent on time or at all. Of course, they always have an excuse. They call it a reason, but it is an excuse nonetheless.

Third, their qualities as neighbors come in a variety of colors and tints. They may have loud parties. They or their friends may park in other people’s spaces in an apartment complex. They may get into arguments with neighbors about things other than the parking places. Their children may run wild through and around the property. They may leave their possessions in the common areas. They may smoke right outside people’s windows.

Fourth, they consider property rules only suggestions. The landlord makes up those rules only because it’s “his way or the highway.” The idea, then, is to break as many of them as they can get away with. The response when they are caught is to either apologize and say “I forgot,” or say “I didn’t realize there was a problem with that.”

Those are all characteristics and actions of the bad tenant, but they also are identifying actions of unconscious tenants, but not necessarily the characteristics. The unconscious tenants’ advantage is that they are that way all the time; they can’t help it. The professional bad tenant knows how to seem as if he’s a good citizen and especially good tenant, and can fool the less-than-careful landlord.

The advantage for rental owners comes before an unconscious tenant has ever even filled out a rental application and has had checked what pass for references.

Sometimes you get clues about the lack of quality of prospective tenants, both bad and unconscious, without their ever having lied even once. Bad tenants tend to be inconsiderate and rude as do unconscious tenants, albeit for different reasons. These six behaviors that will give you a clue the problems you will have if you rent to these tenants.

First clue: an unconscious prospective tenant walks into the unit smoking. Today, polite and considerate people don’t walk into someone else’s property smoking without asking permission–EVER.

Smoking in someone else’s house used to be permissible and acceptable, but not today. With so many states prohibiting smoking inside any public building and not even within 20 feet of the door, smoking has become anathema. Plus, many rental properties don’t allow any smoking anywhere on the premises, inside or out.

After you tell them that you don’t allow smoking in your units, if they put the cigarette out on the floor, even if it’s concrete, that’s a sure sign of an inconsiderate boor whom you don’t want to rent to. If they flick the cigarette out the door without ever putting it out, that’s another sure sign of someone you don’t want.

Second clue: they park in front of the driveway, blocking it so cars can’t get in or out. Unbelievable gall. Figure that you would have trouble with these jerks from day one. Count on their parking in other people’s spots, blocking people in their spots, and always asking if they can have special dispensation to deliver, load or unload something. It will be a constant stream of complaints and irritations from neighbors about these people’s inconsiderate habits.

Third clue: unconscious people walk into a unit without knocking or saying anything. Can you believe behavior like that? It is not their home. They have not even filled out a rental application yet, much less agreed to pay the rent mostly on time and been given the keys.

What they have done is most likely unconscious behavior. After all, they saw an open door and that means it’s okay to just walk in. They may be trying an assumptive close, but not likely and it doesn’t work here. Their cavalier attitude about your property should immediately eliminate them as prospective tenants.

Fourth clue: they bring their or children dog into the unit and let either run wild through the unit. Figure you will have to reject them after you check their rental application. If they won’t even control their dog or children when they’re trying to get to rent from you, how do you think they’ll do after they move in? Imagine what previous landlords will say about them. Also, figure you will have constant complaints from neighbors about one thing or another having to do with their children or dog. We can only speculate what those complaints might entail. Older children will result in a different set of complaints than will younger ones, of course.

Just as bad will be as their children run amok through your property, the parents scream at them. That means the children usually ignore their parents’ instructions and may be just as unconscious as the parents.

Clue Five: if they are late for their appointment to look at the unit, they will be late with the rent. Of course, they will have an excuse. But you’ve heard them all, haven’t you. If it isn’t the flat tire, it’s kids to the doctor or the all-time undefinable favorite, the “family emergency.” Whatever the reason, consider that they are trying it out on you to see if it will work after you let them move into your property. And why didn’t they call?

Clue Six: look at their car if you can. If it is well-maintained (and is actually theirs), you have a clue about how well they take care of the rest of their lives. Look for a missing hubcap. If one is missing, I have heard from several landlords, it is a sign they won’t take care of their homes. This could be your experience, too.

Unfortunately, I had some tenants once, who when they applied to rent the house, showed up in a cute red car in perfect condition, clean and everything. After I rented to them I never saw that car again. What they had was a VW bus with writing all over the sides of it. I don’t remember what all it said except for something about peace and love and a few peace symbols. At least it wasn’t gang graffiti. Oh, and next to the definition of unconscious tenant in the dictionary was their picture.

Here’s the point to remember when screening and even before screening: how you do anything is how you do everything. Count on any inconsiderate behavior or unconscious behavior to be a precursor of even worse behavior if those people move into your property. Any one of the six activities above is grounds to think about immediately rejecting a prospective tenant and meticulously double-checking everything and verifying every reference. It will save you time, money, and grief later on.

By Robert L. Cain

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