Is Your Tenant a Tool? (It’s Not What You Think)

Landlords are really in the business of managing people; if you can manage different personalities you'll be better off!

A few years ago my wife decided to surprise me by organizing our garage.  I was reluctant at first because my garage has always been the one safe place for me to put my stuff; no questions asked.  I knew once the organizing process started, there would be a lot of questions from her and a lot of push back from me.  We started by emptying the contents of my tool bag, some of which were embarrassingly still in their original wrapper.  After pulling out 5 or 6 screwdrivers, my wife asked, “do we really need this many screwdrivers, after all you only have two hands.”  What I knew that she did not is that each screwdriver (flathead, phillips, ratchet, magnetic) had unique characteristics that made it especially useful.  This process continued as we worked our way through cutters, pliers, and other odds-and-ends, with a brief explanation of why I needed each, and its usefulness. 

Reviewing rental applicants remind me a lot of this initial organizing experience.  When we open up the pool of possible tenants for our properties, we are almost always looking at a mixed bag of individuals and personalities.  Each is valuable, each has purpose, and each has merit for us to consider as we look to fill our property with a potential, qualified “business” partner.  Let’s take a look at some of the types of people you might encounter as you get ready to rent our property.


Often you can hear the hammer applicant coming from a mile away.  A hammer tenant isn’t necessarily bad and when managed the right way, can be the perfect tenant to get things done.  As a hard but effective personality, the hammer tenant can either beat up or fix up your property.  As a property owner your management style will directly affect which way the hammer hits.  Hit too hard and the hammer will hit even harder back; but sometimes direct conversation can be your best bet.  Instead, handle the hammer properly, focus their energy, and provide clear directions and expectations.  Use your expertise to anticipate where this type of personality will have issues with you, your property, or the lease.  Use their strong personality type to build a great relationship and you’ll be amazed at how often they “hit the nail on the head” and become a great tenant. 


You may recognize the saw applicant by their ability to cut to the heart of the matter.  This applicant has no time or energy to waste becoming friends with you, they just want to get down to business and get the job done.  How does that work with your management style?  If you like to become best friend with your tenants, the saw type may challenge you… or they may become your best tenant yet.  After all, when looking for a business partner, who better to have than someone who is all business.  When working with this type of applicant, it is important to remember to not take things personally, rather understand that business is business.  The saw type values paying rent on time, respecting the property, and keeping your relationship transactional.  These are all great things when protecting your investment is critical to you. 


Having a wrench type applicant means one of two things; either they will literally throw a wrench into all your plans, or they will tighten things up and make them stronger than ever before.  There are a few things you can do to help facilitate this personality type into becoming a great fixer for your investment.  First, realize they will always be questioning how things are done.  Why does your lease include this, why can’t we do that on the property, etc.  Being prepared with well thought out answers in advance puts you in a position to react professionally.  Second, consider their questions, ideas, and suggestions, not just out of courtesy, but out of curiosity.  Why are they asking these questions?  Have they had past experiences as a tenant that can make me a better owner?  Lastly, assume the best when dealing with the wrench type.  Interpret their interest as a positive thing and see them as a beneficial partner rather than a nuisance.   


Sometimes you get those applicants that are a mishmash of all the possible personality types.  Reluctant to be typecast as any one thing, they truly represent the multi-tool with many facets, functions, and features.  Although they may be difficult to categorize, and even more difficult to manage, I actually love working with this type of applicant.  Think of the countless ways you can connect with someone like this.  Every good baseball team needs a utility player who can cover many positions, and that is exactly what the multi-tool applicant brings to your rental business relationship.  Need someone to challenge you?  Someone to quickly get down to business?  Someone to make you think more deeply about your business?  Check, check and check!  The multi-tool tenant has the potential to challenge you and help develop you into the best owner you can be.


Although I doubt any of us have a wrecking ball in our garage, this type of applicant is the one to avoid.  They are wired to destroy anything in their path.  Often playing the toxic victim, they will bad mouth past landlords, challenge you on every front, hesitate or refuse to provide you information and give you every reason not to trust them.  Run!!!

With all this talk of tools, it’s equally important that you also implement the other critical landlord-specific tools of background screening, consistent criteria, and online rental collections into your daily business practices.  Regardless of the “tool type” your tenant turns out to be, if you examine your business and make a goal to get organized, you will be ready for anyone that walks through the door.  By viewing each applicant as a tool with the potential to make you a better landlord and investor, you can see them positively for the good they bring to your life, and not just as another tool you can shelve, use, or throw away.   


About the Author:      

Scot Aubrey is Vice-President of Rent Perfect, a private investigator, and fellow landlord who manages short-term rentals.  Subscribe to the weekly Rent Perfect Podcast (available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts) to stay up to date on the latest industry news and for expert tips on how to manage your properties.

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