I just spoke with a potential client who lives in Orlando. She just got finished spending over $26,000 renovating a very nice townhome in Tampa. She had picked the wrong tenant thinking she was doing the right thing.  As an owner of a St Petersburg Property Management company, I, unfortunately, get a few of these calls a month.

The sad thing is the owner is just behaving as a normal, decent human being would. The problem is the property owner encountered one of the 2% of the population that are compulsive liars. As a St Petersburg Property Manager, I encountered this type of potential tenant all the time.

I call these people “Nightmare Tenants” because they will lie so convincingly that he or she could win an Academy Award for acting.  These people are so good at lying because it is their basic default setting. They lie all the time in every aspect of their life. They’ve become so skilled at it, that it’s almost impossible to detect it.

The basic ploy is the person builds a ton of rapport with you. He or she is very friendly, conversational, and typically a good listener.  However, the “tell” is when they start giving you a story about how whatever bad thing(s) you are going to find on their credit report is not their fault.  Their last landlord was the “Devil”, or their ex-husband or ex-wife did all this terrible stuff.

Now there are bad landlords and horrible ex-spouses but, if you look at the background reports: credit, criminal, rental history, and job verification, you’ll see a pattern.  People who have been victimized by a spouse will show excellent credit before the divorce, good job history and landlord references. If they don’t, they are 95% most likely to be a Nightmare Tenant.

There are a ton of tricks these people will use besides telling you a heart-wrenching story.  They will have their friends pretend to be their landlord and employment references. They will delay even submitting a rental application until the last possible minute.  They will try to give you cash to let them move-in right away. They will switch from such nice people to guilt-tripping you about how they need a chance.

This particular tenant had a Ph.D. in education and was working a great job.  She did have very bad credit but claimed it was her spouse. But she really got the owner with the “story” of how she just needed a chance to get back on her feet.  

Always keep in mind, tenants are not family.  You are under no obligation to listen to their stories much less make allowances for their circumstances.  I don’t even recommend talking much to a tenant until they submit a rental application with the application fee.  This will weed out a lot of unsavory types.

Also, if they ask a ton of questions of your qualifying criteria and you hear a lot of “What about X…” that is a huge red flag.  

In short, as a landlord, you’ve got to prepare yourself to meet these people.  They are only 2% of the population but they prey on private landlord and can be 20% of the calls you get.  You are in charge and control the screening process. Don’t be cajoled or pressured in any way. If prospective tenants start doing this, 95 times out of 100 you should not even run their application and just refund their application fee, if they even submit one. These people destroy more new landlords than any other issue in land lording.