One of the best things about being a human is having instincts. These personal intuitions can help you decide whether a situation in front of you is a good or a bad one. Some people may call this “trusting your gut.”

If your gut is telling you a situation is a bad one, red flags should be waving around your brain as it usually does turn out to be a bad situation. Sometimes though, your brain reasons you out of trusting your instincts because of the potential pros of a situation. You follow your brain and then you end up regretting a decision you made.

Don’t let that happen to you when you’re looking to sign a rent-to-own agreement.

There are some red flags you should be on the lookout for immediately when you’re considering a rent-to-own home thanks to dealing with the current landlord of the property early on in your pursuit of a place to call your own. These red flags will help you figure out if you’re dealing with a shady landlord before it’s too late in the signing process of your rent-to-own agreement.

No, Bad, or Out-of-the-Country Contact Information

The first red flag you should be on the lookout for on a rent-to-own listing is if the listing contains no contact information for the landlord. If there’s no way to call or email the landlord, you’ll want to steer clear of the property. If there’s only a form for you to request more information on the property, you’ll want to move on because the person posting the listing may only be trying to sell your information once they have it.

Additionally, if you come across a rent-to-own listing that has bad contact information, your gut should raise a red flag for you immediately. If you try to email the landlord and the email bounces back, or you try to call the landlord and your phone call can’t go through, it’s best to leave the listing alone and never come back to it.

Another contact information red flag is if the landlord is out of the country. This is most likely an indication the rent-to-own listing is a scam.

In general, it’s good to keep in mind that a good landlord will give you a legitimate phone number you can reach them by 24/7 as well as a valid email address that they constantly check.

Bad Communication, Especially Initially

If you’ve been trying to call a landlord about touring a rent-to-own property that you’re interested in, but they’re not returning your calls, you should probably not pursue the property any further.

A good landlord is typically eager to get a tenant into their property so they can begin the process of selling the property and/or making a little bit of income on the property every month. If the landlord can’t even field phone calls about a potential tenant’s interest on a property, they’re going to be a shady person to deal with overall.

Perhaps the landlord took your call and made an appointment with you so you could tour the property. That’s a good start, but now that you’re at the mutually agreed upon meeting point at the mutually agreed upon time, you’ve come to realize the landlord is late. What gives?

If you find yourself in a situation where the landlord is late to the tour of the property or just plain forgets you had made a tour appointment, you should probably rescind your interest in the property. If the landlord doesn’t keep track of appointments like yours, how do you know they’ll accurately keep track of your monthly payments? How do you know they’re keeping up with paying taxes on the property? How do you know if any necessary maintenance has been done on the property?

Making mental notes of bad communication skills like this can help you avoid jumping into a bad rent-to-own agreement in the future.

Vague, Inconsistent and Shady Property Details

The Internet is a great way to begin your initial search for a rent-to-own property. It can help you get an idea of what’s available on the market and where property locations are. That being said, you should be on the lookout for vague property details.

Vague details won’t give you specifics about the property, just generalizations. These generalizations will paint a pretty picture in your mind, but you won’t necessarily get an accurate idea for what the property is offering.

You should also keep your eye out for inconsistent details. For example, if the master bedroom room size is listed at 12×12, but the picture of the master shows this grand, master suite, you should start questioning the legitimacy of the listing. Another big red flag is if the listing claims the property has all these incredible features, but the photos show otherwise (or vice versa for that matter!).

Speaking of photos, it’s important you pay attention to the listing photos as well. If you’re not on a “reputable” website—such as Redfin, Homelight, Zillow, etc.—and you see watermarked listing pictures, red flags should go up in your mind. You should really question the legitimacy of the listing if it contains MLS photos and the site isn’t a partner of the MLS. This could be an indication of the landlord just ripping photos off from somewhere online and trying to pass them for a property of their own.

Another thing to keep in mind with photos in a listing is they could be photos of the home, but they could be old photos when everything was shiny and new. Now, the property could actually be in terrible condition.

Trashed Property and/or Common Areas

As alluded to in the previous point, if the first thing you notice when you get to tour the property is it’s completely trashed, you should turn on your heel and walk right out of the tour.

If a property has areas on it that look poorly maintained, it’s not an isolated occurrence. These areas could be the yard, the garage, the house itself and so on, but if one part of the property looks neglected by the landlord, there’s no telling what else could be in tough shape somewhere else on the property.

Additionally, if you notice poor, cheap, lazy repairs that have been done on certain aspects inside the home, it’s also a good indicator the landlord has not taken very good care of the property. To avoid a headache later, you should walk away from the idea of signing a rent-to-own agreement on the home.

If you’re in the rent-to-own market for a condo or townhome, pay close attention to the common areas. Do these look well-maintained or are they unruly and unkempt? If the common areas are the latter, that should tell you all you need to know about how the landlord cares for their property.

While the conditions of the property can clue you into how well the landlord takes care of it, they can also help you infer that if there was a maintenance emergency on the property, the landlord will most likely not be helpful when it comes to remedying the problem.

Vague Answers

If a landlord is providing you with vague answers to any of your questions about the property, or they’re blatantly dodging your questions about certain aspects of the property, red flags should go up in your mind immediately. Providing you with vague answers or dodging your questions will indicate they’re running a shady operation or they’re trying to hide something specific about the property that has been turning potential tenants away.

There’s no reason a landlord should be hiding any information to you about a property in which you’re willing to sign a rent-to-own agreement. If you do find they’re changing subjects when you ask them about something in particular, keep pestering them for an answer. If they don’t give you one, then you’ll know it’s time to walk away from the potential deal because who knows what else they’re trying to hide from you.

Bad Online Reviews or Sketchy Information

If you’re getting an uneasy vibe from your new potential landlord, try entering their name into your favorite online search engine and see what type of search results come up. You may be able to find out if they have poor online reviews for other properties they may manage. You may also find out other surprising or sketchy information such as if they have a criminal history or if they’ve been involved with shady business deals before.

If you see any information such as this, then your best bet is to walk away from entering a rent-to-own agreement with that particular landlord.

Cash Only Payments or Wired Money Payments

All reputable landlords will accept monthly rent-to-own payments in various types of forms such as online payments by credit cards or debit cards, checks, money orders or sometimes cash. Cash payments tend to be the less preferred version of a monthly payment for most reputable landlords though.

So, if you stumble across a landlord that will only accept cash payments or wants you to wire your monthly payment to a random account, a red flag should immediately go up in your mind. In most cases like this, your payment will not actually be going towards your house. It could be going to something else entirely and could indicate the landlord is conducting shady business behind the scenes.

No Background Check or Credit History Required

Many reputable rental residences require applicants to pass a background check before their application to move in is accepted. It’s not uncommon for this to be required for signing a rent-to-own agreement on a property either. If you find the landlord is adamant about no background checks or pulling any type of credit history for you, then you may want to question whether you want to continue your path to entering a business deal with that person.

Trying to Get You to Sign an Agreement Without Seeing the Property

Was the landlord of your potential future rent-to-own property trying to get you to sign an agreement before you even saw the property for yourself? Were they super reluctant to let you tour the property? If you find this to be the case, another red flag should probably go up in your mind about dealing with this particular landlord.

Good landlords should easily welcome you into taking a tour of the property in which you’re interested. Once you see the property, it’s more likely you’ll be more serious about signing a rent-to-own agreement on it. So, if you’re dealing with a landlord that doesn’t want show you the property, then you should immediately know something is off.

The Neighbors Aren’t Happy

If you find you like the property after touring it, but you’re still unsure on how you feel about the landlord, feel free to ask the neighbors in the area about what they think of the landlord. There’s nothing illegal about knocking on the neighbors’ doors to get their input.

You may find out that the landlord truly does care for the property and maybe they just need to improve their people skills to come across as more likeable. You may also find out that the landlord truly does not care for the property and people are upset about how it’s being managed.

You don’t know until you ask, so you may as well get boots on the ground and find out for yourself.

These are just some of the major red flags to watch out for that could indicate you’re dealing with a shady landlord. It’s important to know these red flags before you sign a rent-to-own agreement so you don’t get yourself into bad living and financial situations down the road.

Above all else, you should always trust your gut. So, if your instincts are telling you the landlord seems shady, then you know it’s time to walk away from the potential rent-to-own agreement.


Additional Resources

Six of the Most Common Types of Rent-to-Own Scams

Bay Management Group


The Financial Diet

US News