Someday I Might Get Commission

I’ve also been busy looking for tenants. This time it’s for my brother. He’s been letting his house sit empty every winter while he travels for his business. Now that he’s gotten married it’s unlikely that he and the wife will ever live there again. Even though she lived there a while before they were married, this place was quite the bachelor pad. (Converted warehouse with double garage/shop space, second floor open loft space with fireplace, regulation pool table, hardwood floors, skylights and lots of other amenities.)

Even if they come back to the area, they’ll probably want a roomier place in a nicer neighborhood. You know, for the little ones… as I’m sure they’ll get around to breeding in the next few years. Still, he wants to hang onto the place for a while. Mostly for sentiment, I’m guessing, but maybe also as a safety net. So, I agreed to help him find someone because I’m local and have been a landlord for 13 years.

I’ve got it down to a science now.

The ad goes in the weekly arts paper. Never mind the daily paper, too many sketchy characters that don’t bother to keep their showing appointment. Outgoing message on the second phone line gets changed to a long-winded message that describes every possible detail about the place and invites the caller to leave a message if want to see it. That way, everyone gets the same information and I don’t have to repeat myself incessantly. This phone is never answered. Period. I do not talk to anyone who doesn’t leave a message first. This automatically weeds out folks who have the attention span of a gnat, aren’t serious, and who would likely be a no-show if I were to let them just make an appointment.

The message always states what kind of tenant I’m looking for and usually it’s “the rental unit is suitable for one or two adults only.” On call-backs I try to get more information to determine suitability without being downright discriminatory. I can say “no smokers” and I can say “no pets” but I can’t say “no kids” and “no assholes.” Truthfully, every place I’ve ever rented hasn’t been suitable for kids – in my judgement – for one reason or another, so I try to deter folks who think they’re gonna bring their three kids into a one bedroom place.

I make it clear there’s an application and that I check references. I also always use a lease and require a deposit. I’ve learned the hard way not to skip any part of my process if I don’t want to get screwed. It’s time consuming but I’ve been pretty successful at finding good tenants who often stay long past the initial lease.

I get better at it each time and since it’s been three years since I last looked for tenants, I’ve been reminded of some things that make me cross people off the list immediately.

  • People who take applications with them never fill them out and return them. Despite their vehement expression of desire and intention, they won’t follow through. These are the same folks who will call you back in a week or two and say they are still interested after you’ve rented the place.
  • Aside from the usual questions – like “how are repairs handled?” – some people think they have the right to ask inappropriate questions like “Is there a mortgage on this place?” and “How many other applicants do you have?” This person is too nosy and isn’t able to detect boundaries. They will cause trouble later by attempting circumvent or deflect the ‘rules’ by trying to get personal with you.
  • Folks who sit there to fill out the application but skip parts of it because they don’t have the information available or because they don’t think it’s important. They’ll ask “You don’t really need this do you?” or say “Is it okay if I give you this instead?” These people are simply not prepared or have something to hide.
  • People who gush incessantly, try to give you deposit money right away (cash even), give too much information on the application and then call you on the phone three or four times after the appointment but before you’ve heard back from their references. Basically, they present well but are so anxious that they try to rush you into a decision. These are the same type of people who will bug the crap out of you when they want some non-emergency repair made.
  • Prospective tenants who start planning major upgrades in front of you. They might actually have some painting and carpentry skills but that doesn’t mean you’re going to let them go hog wild. The fact that they discuss “the potential” right away – potential that is well beyond a simple coat of paint – instead of asking the usual questions means that these folks will be a royal pain in the long run. Sure they might improve your property but they’ll expect you to forgo the rent and pick up the cost. If you ever have to say no after saying yes to some projects then they might get pissed off and you could have a problem.

Some of the people I showed the house to fit into more than one of these categories. Egads… you really have to have the bullshit detector batteries charged. I also had a no-show. On the fifth showing I found someone who I think will be great. For my brother’s sake, let’s hope I’m right.


  1. Very interesting perspective on the tenant-landlord relationship. You’ve given me something to think about when I look for my next place!

  2. I’ve been on both sides of this issue. My sister has a few rental properties and I’ve helped her out from time to time. Do you do credit checks? My sister used to insist that the prospective tenant get a copy of their credit report for her. I found this a little much but hey, it’s her place. She had one tenenat one time though…..this woman had impeccable credit a good work history, was single, no kids, non-smoker and 1 cat. She lived there for years until she totally nutted out. She stopped paying her utilities and started collecting animals. In a nutshell, there was $25,000 worth of damage and the smell was just freakin horrifying. I’ve finally convinced sis that the credit check is pointless. Psycho tenant had great credit and look what happened. I think the best way to find a good tenant is to mostly follow your gut. I love your thoughts on weeding out the bullshit. If I ever have to do the landlord thing again I’m gonna use your rules….and my gut.

Comments are closed.