How to Identify and Avoid Professional Tenants

Professional tenants are every landlord’s worst nightmare. The name may make them sound like ideal renters, but, really, the word “professional” just means they know how to steal your money and waste your time.

What is a Professional Tenant?

A professional tenant is someone who signs a lease with the intention of paying no rent. They will give their landlord nothing but headaches, dragging them through a lengthy eviction process, and getting off rent-free.

Typically, professional tenants will move into a unit and find the smallest issues to complain about; they will abuse the legal system and threaten to withhold rent any time a problem arises. Once they are served an eviction notice, a professional tenant will defend themselves with every possible counterclaim, no matter how irrelevant. By the time a landlord finishes jumping through all the hoops of the eviction process, the professional tenant will already be gone. All this leaves a landlord with is a trashed unit and unpaid rent.

Common Tactics Used by Professional Tenants

Professional tenants know every loophole in the book — they’re sneaky, sketchy, and slimy. For this reason, one should be aware of common tactics used to pull a fast one over landlords.

  • Paying Partial Rent: A lot of the time, professional tenants will only pay part of their rent each month. If a landlord accepts the partial rent that mont, they will not be able to evict the tenant until next month, according to state laws. This will help the tenant to buy some extra time on the property as they continue to withhold money. Many landlords may not notice this behavior and will continue to give tenants more chances to pay later. Before they know it, the lease is almost up, and there are countless overdue rent payments.
  • Only Paying in Cash: Professional tenants tend to prefer paying in cash, since it’s impossible to track. They may lie about making cash payments or even forge rental receipts. If things get out of hand with the professional tenant and the landlord goes to court, the proper evidence will be crucial. A landlord will want to have a track record of payments or lack thereof. If all payments are made in cash, there won’t be much proof to defend oneself against a professional tenant.
  • Dodging Late Fees: When a professional tenant doesn’t pay rent on time, they may simply pay the rent amount and claim they will pay the late fee some other time. Professional tenants know a landlord is much more likely to pursue a tenant for the larger amount of money. Over time, a landlord may tire of being a debt collector, so they will habitually write off the late fees. If a lease has specific terms for late fees, and the landlord continually breaks them, this will suggest that the lease terms are flexible and will give tenants room to bend the rules.
  • Claiming the Unit is Uninhabitable: As mentioned before, professional tenants will often make maintenance requests and act like there is a problem with the unit. This way, they have a reason to withhold rent. Professional tenants may claim the unit is completely uninhabitable and even trash the unit on purpose for “proof.” Landlords should keep detailed records of all maintenance requests and repairs to back themselves up in the courtroom. When a tenant claims a unit is uninhabitable, the landlord must provide evidence of habitability. This is why an up-to-date log of property conditions and modifications should also be kept.

Spotting a Professional Tenant

While you’re searching for the perfect tenant, noticing certain traits will aid you in identifying scammers like professional tenants. Here are some of professional tenants’ common attributes:

  • History of evictions, litigation, or delinquency with prior landlords, especially recently.
  • Extensive knowledge of landlord-tenant law and/or a background in real estate, contracting, or law.
  • A poor financial record with several bankruptcies, judgments, collections, or bad credit.
  • Gaps in recent rental history with no reasonable explanation.
  • Incomplete, fake, or non-existent landlord references.

Avoiding Professional Tenants

Screening tenants is one of the most crucial stages of the renting process. Landlords must always run thorough background checks on potential tenants and watch out for red flags. Here are some tips for avoiding professional tenants during screening:

  • Call all landlord references and ask them insightful questions about the potential tenant.
  • Verify all employment information, bankruptcy records, criminal and court records.
  • Perform a proper credit check.
  • Interview all potential tenants personally.
  • Document everything throughout the screening process. Keeping records of your research will help immensely in the future.

Professional tenants should be avoided at all costs. A meticulous screening process is imperative if a landlord wants to nip professional tenants in the bud. Know the signs, and always keep thorough documentation of all encounters and processes.