A lot of landlords are anxious to rent their properties, especially if they only have one or two rental units. If a tenant approaches them that speaks well, appears clean and polite, and seems to be "a nice guy" they will sometimes forget to be prudent business people. And that is when they really get into trouble.
In the current economy, homeowners are not the only ones who feel the pinch. Many renters become bad pay when they have always had good records before. While there are no magic formulas to insure good tenants, there are some practical guidelines to follow.
When a tenant applies for any apartment, it is imperative that the landlord perform a thorough background examination before they decide to rent to them. If the tenant tells you that they just arrived in town, or that they just arrived in the country, you are probably taking a larger risk since they have created a situation where a background check is difficult if not impossible. If they tell you that they have never rented an apartment before, and that they are living with their parents (even though they have three children and have been married for 15 years), be careful. These are situations where a credit check is an absolute must! Even if you are given a current or former landlord, check to make sure that the person given as landlord is indeed the owner of the property that the tenant was supposed to have rented.
When meeting with the tenant, have a form prepared which asks them where they have lived for the past three years, where they work, what their income is, what their obligations are, and the names of several different credit references. These should be people they do business with, and not just people who will tell you that their are really nice people. If you plan on having a credit report prepared, you will need the social security numbers of all of the tenants.
Remember, it will cost you more to evict a bad tenant than it will cost you if you keep a property vacant for an extra month.