Tenancy Law – “Providing a False Statement Knowingly”
Guest PostLegal 4 Landlords
Introduced by the Housing Act 1996 was an additional ground for eviction, which aimed to deal with a growing number of fraudulent tenancies. The new ground for eviction (Ground 17) was aptly names “Providing a False Statement Knowingly”.
The additional ground is however only a discretionary ground, which makes a total of 9 discretionary eviction grounds, and 8 mandatory eviction grounds – 17 grounds altogether (click here for a full list of mandatory and discretionary grounds for eviction).
Specifically Ground 17 is for when a tenant (or a person acting for the tenant) is deliberately dishonest in order to obtain a tenancy, which they would not have otherwise been able to secure. Letting agents and landlords where frequently frustrated by a relatively small number of potential tenants who provided both misleading and deliberately deceptive information, which did not always come to light until after the tenancy has started, at which point they previously had little recourse. With the introduction of Ground 17, landlords at least have the option to take action against tenants who has made fraudulent claims.
Tenant References and Tenant Application Forms
The majority of letting agents, and most landlords take proactive measures to “vet” their tenants prior to signing a tenancy agreement. The most common part of the vetting process is a tenant reference. This reference (which is usually completed by a third party tenant referencing company such as Legal 4 Landlords) will ask the potential tenant various questions about their financial situation, employment, lifestyle and previous address history. The results will then be fed back to the landlord or letting agent together with a recommendation, usually either Accept of Decline (some maybe returned as accept only with guarantor).
A small number of tenants who have been declined tenancies in the past due to their tenant reference may decide to provide false information in order to ensure an “accept” is received.
Most Common Types of Fraudulent Information
Research completed by Legal 4 Landlords has highlighted three main areas which are most susceptible to fraudulent statements:-
1. Tenant(s) states they are single when they are not
This can be because they know their partner would not pass a tenant reference or a credit search, and therefore conceal their relationship in order to avoid the tenancy application being rejected. Another common reason for the applicant claiming to be single when they are not is in order to qualify for housing benefit or tax credits as a single person / parent.
2. Tenant(s) states they are employed when they are not
This could simply be an unemployed tenant trying to obtain a tenancy which specified professional tenants only (no DSS). Some may go to great lengths to confirm employment, including fraudulent pay slips or by providing false employment reference. (useful tip: always confirm employment references using a landline phone number which can be found on the company’s website, and then ask to be transferred to the person who provided the reference)
3. Tenant(s) claim they have lived with parents for the last 3 years
This is generally to avoid bad debt detection, or to avoid providing their previous landlord details.
How to Use Ground 17 for Eviction Proceedings
Ground 17 is a discretionary ground, and so the court will take a subjective view on the particular details surrounding the claim and whether it is reasonable to grant an order for possession (evict the tenant) when considering the requirements of the Ground 17:-
“Recovery of possession where grant induced by false statement”
The tenant is the person, or one of the persons, to whom the tenancy was granted and the landlord was induced to grant the tenancy by a false statement made knowingly or recklessly by—
(a) the tenant, or
(b) a person acting at the tenant’s instigation.”
This ground has two significant components which the landlord would need to prove:
(a) they were induced to grant the tenancy by a false statement, and
(b) the false statement was made knowingly or recklessly.
NOTE: the false information does not need to come directly from the tenant, but can be from a third party in which the tenant has influenced, for example a false employment reference.
What the Court will Consider
- Did the tenant deliberately provide misleading, false or withhold information on their tenant application or tenant reference forms?
- Does the landlord have evidence of the deception, for example a copy of the tenancy application or tenant reference form completed and signed by the tenant?
- What was the nature and extent of the false statement? Eg. was it a slight exaggeration of earnings, or did they completely falsify their employment situation?
- When did the landlord find out about the false information, and how quickly did they seek legal remedy?
Most often the landlord will not find out about the false information until a property inspection is carried out, or if problems with rental payments arise.
In additional to any fraudulent information provided by the tenant, it is also worth considering the possibility of identity theft. Landlord and letting agents can reduce their risk by confirming the potential tenants identify with a trusted form of photo ID, for example a passport or photo card driving license.