The image above is a strong depiction for a professional tenant… but it’s accurate because a professional renter is a parasite that will destroy your real estate investments.
Many attorneys who practice landlord-tenant law use the phrase “professional tenant” to label a landlord’s worst nightmare: the kind of tenant who will offer nothing but headaches, unpaid rent, and a trashed unit.
These are the tenants who complain over the smallest issues, attempt to withhold rent until issue after issue is fixed, and respond to an eviction notice with every possible counterclaim or defense – no matter how irrelevant to the tenant’s actual situation.
By the time the landlord has climbed out of the legal thicket, the tenant is gone, but the mess and unpaid rent remain.
A table of contents for professional tenants:
- Professional tenant definition
- How to spot a professional tenant
- Avoiding professional tenants
- How to get rid of a professional tenant
Professional Tenant Definition
A professional tenant (sometimes referred to as professional renter) is not just a poor fit for your property. A professional tenant is someone who understands legal loopholes and technicalities in order to game the system to their advantage. They know how to withhold rent due to repairs, they understand how to drag an eviction process out and how to get it expunged from their record. They usually have a sporadic rental history from jumping from place to place in an effort to avoid paying full rent.
How to Spot a Professional Tenant
It’s not always easy to spot a professional tenant at the outset. Many of these tenants are excellent at hiding their past misdeeds.
Here are a few red flags to note during the application process in order to spot professional tenants:
- The applicant has a history of evictions, litigation (especially with landlords), or delinquency with prior landlords.
- They know federal, state, and local landlord-tenant law inside and out and they aren’t afraid to show it off. Some professional tenants will also show off their backgrounds in real estate, contracting, or law as well.
- Their financial history includes multiple bankruptcies, judgments, collections, or poor credit.
- They have gaps in their recent rental history with no plausible or verifiable explanation.
- The references they offer for prior landlords are non-existent, incomplete, or fake.
An applicant who has only a few of these red flags may not be a professional tenant. For instance, a person with a recent bankruptcy may have lost his or her job or suffered a medical crisis; a person with a rental-history gap may have stayed with family or traveled abroad for a few years.
The more red flags that appear, the more likely you’re dealing with a professional tenant.
Avoiding Professional Renters
It is far easier to turn down a professional tenant in the application process than to evict one once a lease has been signed.
Create a solid and thorough screening process to minimize your risk of professional tenants. Include steps like:
- Call every past landlord reference and talk to them. You’ll learn a great deal about applicants – and you’ll also learn quickly which references have been faked.
- Check and verify employment information, bankruptcy information, and court records.
- Perform proper credit and background checks (we can provide these here at RentPrep)
- Interview each applicant personally. Ask about gaps in rental or employment history: applicants who can keep a story straight, even if it makes them look bad, are more likely to be telling the truth.
- Document everything. Keep copies of all paperwork, notes from reference checks, and information submitted by the applicant. Good documentation can settle many legal issues before they start.
How to Get Rid of a Professional Tenant
When evicting a professional tenant you want to make sure you’re meticulous in documenting and following the right steps.
This eviction guide will walk you through the steps to follow. Be sure you’re following your state laws because if you have one slip up you might be dealing with this tenant for an extended period.
A common trap frustrated landlords fall into is going the self-help eviction route. This is where they take things into their own hands and lock the tenant out or cut off the utilities.
The self-help eviction is a terrible idea because you’ll end up paying civic fines and even have to pay your tenant for damages (spoiled food, prorated rent, and others).
One option is to attempt to pay the tenant to leave. This is called cash for keys. It may seem frustrating but it’s a quicker and cheaper solution compared to a lengthy eviction process.
Talk to your attorney. A lawyer with experience representing landlords in your city and state can help you develop a plan to handle your particular tenant.