There seems to be little on the net that answers this question. Certainly, there is nothing I can find that speaks to Pennsylvania law. For that reason, I will offer what I can.
The law allows for remedy.
I have yet to find anyone or any resource that will argue that intentional gross misrepresentation on a rental application is not fraud. A parallel is a loan application where intentional gross misrepresentation is punishable as a criminal act. What separates the the two is the taking or controlling of either movable or immovable property. Here is that portion of the statute again.
§ 3921. Theft by unlawful taking or disposition.
(a) Movable property.--A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully
takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another
with intent to deprive him thereof.
(b) Immovable property.--A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully
transfers, or exercises unlawful control over, immovable property of
another or any interest therein with intent to benefit himself or
another not entitled thereto.
In regard to whether a property is movable or immovable, what is commonly argued is that the landlord remains in possession of his property. Common arguments made are:
- The apartment has not been removed.
- The landlord has possession of the entire property less specific
rights that tenants hold.
- The landlord retains access rights to the apartment.
- The landlord retains a remedy process of eviction.
Nothing can be further from a legal definition. As a matter of law, the lessee by contract has rights to the property in many cases over the landlord. For example, the landlord must obtain permission to enter he property or give proper notice to enter the property to which the lessee can object. This, in of itself, defines access rights to the property for the landlord. The landlord retains little rights to exercise control over his/her property except what is defined within the law or within the contract between the lessee and the landlord.
The writ of possession.
Section 250.503. Hearing; judgment; writ of possession; payment of
rent by tenant
(a) On the day and at the time appointed or on a day to which the case
may be adjourned, the justice of the peace shall proceed to hear the
case. If it appears that the complaint has been sufficiently proven,
the justice of the peace shall enter judgment against the tenant:
(1) that the real property be delivered up to the landlord;
(b) At the request of the landlord, the justice of the peace shall,
after the fifth day after the rendition of the judgment, issue a writ
of possession directed to the writ server, constable or sheriff,
commanding him to deliver forthwith actual possession of the real
property to the landlord...
Please note that in section (a)(1) the following, that the real property be delivered up to the landlord;, and section (b) the following, commanding him to deliver forthwith actual possession of the real property to the landlord.
This strongly indicates that the property in question is not within the possession of the landlord.
The argument that a remedy is as good as a conviction.
Nothing can be further from the truth. While the landlord has the right to remedy under the Tenant Landlord Act of 1951, the fraud committed goes unpunished. The sad fact of the matter is, once a tenant has left, collecting is nearly impossible. With wait times almost reaching 70 days, and the legal process as it exists, the landlord often can only obtain a legal remedy for a portion of the costs and losses. In order to obtain a legal remedy for the remaining, the landlord must find the lessee. This can be nearly impossible or at least, a very expensive proposition. This is despite the legal requirement that the lessee register their new address and phone number with the court. Failure to do so is a crime. And yet, not one seems to do this and the courts fail to prosecute as a result. It is not uncommon that a landlord will choose the most expedient and cost effective route in removing a tenant and not seek a remedy beyond removing the tenant. Some go as far as offer a reward as high as $5000.00 to the tenant to leave. Some remedy under the law. The law does not work for landlords as it exists and the existing process under the law removes rights of landlords that other property owners are entitled to and enjoy. For example, when the property is abandoned, the landlord must undergo a process to regain his rights to his property that is 30 days or more.
The prevailing attitude today is that:
- The landlord has retained rights to his property.
- The landlord has a remedy under the law that makes whole the losses
of the landlord.
- Bad tenants are a part of doing business. Get over it.
- It is no big deal. Just evict them. (unaware that this process can
take almost 70 days and cost nearing $1000)
- Your property is still there, it has not been stolen.
- You rental income was not stolen, it was not realized.
- The lessee did not benefit from being a bad tenant.
- Your losses are nothing more than cleaning and removing some stuff.
- Just sell the property and you will make money.
Nothing can be further from the truth. Contrary to popular belief, outside of urban areas, most all landlords are small operators. Losses can jeopardize the mortgage and even bankrupt a landlord who often has his life savings tied up into real-estate. Given the real-estate bubble, many areas have not recovered and investment made 10 years ago cannot be recuperated. It is not uncommon that a small series of bad tenants can cost property losses of $100,000, $200,000, or more. Bad tenants are so prevalent these days that eviction is a never ending fact that landlords face. Even if one bad tenant does not throw a landlord into bankruptcy, another might.
While it is often argued that bad tenants are those who lost their jobs and that landlords are eager to kick these tenants out, nothing can be further from the truth. Most landlords are in the business of helping people and can tolerate some level of loss if the tenant avails themselves of the opportunities that exist. For example, unemployment. Bad tenants these days are destructive, vindictive, retaliatory, and deliberate. There is a new breed of lessee that is finally being realized though they have existed for decades.
One such case was linked to in the comments:
Here is another one:
You do not have to search the net very long to find countless abuses of lessees that landlords have had to contend with and the losses and costs of these cases some going on for over a decade.
So has anyone been arrested for intentional gross misrepresentation on a rental application?
Short answer? YES.
However, this is often in conjunction with other offenses including writing bad checks. It appears that more recently, Theft by deception. is being recognized. However, with priorities in law enforcement and prosecution being what they are, it remains a very low priority. However, fact patterns do make the difference. The sworn testimony of a single landlord may do little, however, the sworn testimony of two or more likely will.
Here are a few links where tenants have been arrested where Theft by deception. has been a factor.
A Toronto tenant recently convicted of defrauding two of her landlords
by lying on her rental applications will serve six months in jail,
according to a report by the Toronto Star.
Sometimes the Act Is Charged as a Crime
Though it isn’t common, there are cases where a landlord has filed
charges against a fraudulent renter. However you look at it, providing
false information on an application is fraud. It is equal to passing
bad checks. Every landlord is different and depending on how much
trouble he feels the lie or lies have caused or the amount of money he
feels he is out are factors as to whether or not he may want to file
charges. The consequences of the fraud vary from state to state.
Last week, Carde was charged with 12 criminal counts. Prosecutors say
that she’s a fugitive wanted in lieu of $150,000 bail and that police
are looking for her.
For the past five years, they say, Carde has engaged in an elaborate
scheme to dupe home sellers out of their properties. Presenting
herself as a legitimate — and wealthy — buyer, Carde would enter into
lease-with-option-to-purchase agreements with homeowners, move in and
then stop paying rent, according to an investigation by prosecutors
and the state Department of Financial Institutions.
Do tenants profit from landlords?
Absolutely. In fact, that is precisely the point. Reading the linked articles above, it becomes clear that the primary motive is to deprive the landlord of his property for as long as possible and to profit by not having to pay housing costs that we all pay. Bad tenants that commit fraud, are intentionally defrauding the landlord for gain and do profit from this form of fraud for decades until a fact pattern is established and a prosecutor takes pity upon a landlord.
Another bright note on the subject.
Minnesota does afford a penalty for lying on a rental application. Here is the link to the law:
...where it states...
VIII. LYING ON A RENTAL APPLICATION A tenant who lies on an
application to get an apartment is guilty of theft. 32 The statute
states that theft has been committed when a person "obtains.. the
possession or custody or title of property of... a third person by
intentionally deceiving the third person with false representation,
which is known to be false, made with the intent to defraud and which
does defraud the person to whom it is made."33 Such theft is at least
a misdemeanor, but may carry a more severe punishment depending on how
the court values the lease obtained by the fraud.
In this respect, Minnesota does define this activity as fraud or Theft by deception.
What our local judge says.
Curious? She agrees that it is a crime to use fraudulent means during the application process to gain access to a rental property. She, however, echos the attitude that most lawyers, prosecutors, and judges would have. Landlords have a remedy in the civil courts.
So you have it.
While technically intentional gross misrepresentation on a rental application is a crime, the unwillingness to recognize it as a crime and to prosecute offenders remains an issue. It has become clear to me, that for the least of these bad tenants, a criminal prosecution is exactly what the doctor orders. It would at least abate the amateur huckster quickly leaving only the worst of the worst thus reducing the issue significantly.