Know your limits (© Michael Blann/Getty Images)

Surely there have been cases where the dog actually ate the rent money, along with the kid’s homework.

But sometimes landlords have to scratch their heads and wonder. The evidence seems to point in another direction.

Most landlords are quick to say that they have many good, reliable tenants. If not, they’d find another business; tenants are their livelihood. But then there are the rest, that tiny percentage of renters who can’t seem to get it together and aren’t quick to fess up.

“Eighty percent of the people take care of the apartment, pay their rent and are no problem at all,” says Jesse Holland, president of Sunrise Management & Consulting, a residential property-management firm in New York. “About 15% have their qualms but do what they’re supposed to do. And that last 2% or 3% are the nightmares.”

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And what kinds of things do these tenants say? Below are some favorites from landlords. Tenants take note: If you hear these lines start to come out of your mouth, stop and think a moment. Another strategy — the truth, perhaps — might prove more effective.

1. ‘It’s not a dog; it’s a barking cat.’
Hmmm … are you sure you want to make that your final answer?

This was Barry Maher several years ago in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he owned a small apartment building. Dogs were not allowed, as outlined in the rental agreement. Cats were.

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However, shortly after a young woman moved in, her neighbors complained about barking in the apartment. Maher called the tenant.

“She said, ‘Oh I would never have a dog. But what I have is a special breed. It’s a very rare thing; it’s a dog cat ... a mix of a cat and a dog.’

“It was so blatant and so crazy that I actually spent a moment thinking, ‘Is there really such a thing as a dog cat?’ ” Maher recalled. “And I’m really not an idiot.”

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A better strategy? Be fair to the animal, the building owner and fellow tenants and operate in the open.

“If she’d have come to me and said she wanted a pet, I would have explained exactly what the circumstances were, and how she could have gone out and gotten a cat,” Maher says. (See “Renting with a pet? 10 tips to get Buddy in the door”)

Instead, the tenant had to get rid of the dog (and, yes, it was 100% dog). “Eventually we had to get rid of her.”

2. ‘But you said I could paint it.’
Did you not know that it’s usually just walls that get painted? And in a color that’s possible to paint over?

“They had information they could paint the apartment and said, ‘We’ll do it ourselves,’ ” says Izzy Ginzberg, a landlord in New York and author of  “The Top 10 Mistakes Real Estate Investors Make.” “I said, ‘Fine.’

“The entire thing was purple. The ceiling, the walls, the whole entire apartment was painted lavender,” he says. “They told me, ‘Yeah, you said we could paint it.’

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“I have no illusions about them painting it back,” Ginzberg says.

3. ‘My grandmother died ... again.’
That’s strange: According to our files, your grandmother has died six times recently. At least according to the reasons you’ve provided each time you couldn’t pay the rent.

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The sudden need to pay for a funeral is a common claim for inability to pay, managers say.

Mark Kreditor, a broker with Get There First Realty, a property-management firm in Dallas/Fort Worth, says “We sometimes keep things in the file,” and in this case the same grandmother had indeed apparently received six funerals.

4. ‘I have to move out. I’m allergic to pet dander.’
How is it, then, that you work as a groomer in a veterinary clinic?

This also happened to Kreditor. The problem is that once people sign a 12-month lease, there are very few ways to break it. So tenants must come up with their own — at times creative — reasons about why they must leave.

5. ‘The check may have bounced, but at least I paid.’
Actually, mailing a check that isn’t backed by real money isn’t quite the same thing as paying the bill. In fact, it’s not the same thing at all.

“People think they’ve paid the rent when the check bounced,” Kreditor says. “I say, ‘You could have written it out on the back of a napkin and it would have the same value as that check.’ ”

6. ‘I was the victim of identity theft.’
OK, that would seem valid, given your bad credit. Except for this catch: Your credit was just as bad before the date your identity was allegedly stolen.

This is a reason frequently given by prospective tenants to explain their poor credit, as well as by existing tenants unable to pay the rent, says Mia Melle, president of, a property-management firm in Southern California.

“It usually doesn’t make sense, because their bad credit goes way back,” Melle says.