Private landlords sometimes put pressure on tenants to leave their properties, or may even use physical force. However, most tenants have legal rights to protect them against harassment and illegal eviction.
The Protection from Eviction Act1977 makes harassment and illegal eviction a criminal and civil offence.
Unlawful eviction or a harassment offence can be tried in a Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. The maximum penalty in a Magistrates Court is six months in prison and/or a fine of not more than £5,000. In the Crown Court it is two years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
What is illegal eviction?
Illegal (or unlawful) eviction occurs when a tenant is unlawfully deprived of all or part of their rented home. The eviction could be by force or changing the locks whilst the tenant is out. Blocking access to a part of the accommodation, which the tenant has a right to occupy, would also constitute an illegal eviction. This offence can be committed by anyone and not just the landlord or his agent.
In most cases, the landlord must obtain a possession order from a county court after serving a valid Notice Seeking Possession. If you receive a notice you do not have to leave when your notice expires. You should get legal advice on your rights, depending on the type of your tenancy.
Once the notice has expired the landlord must go to court and only the court can decide whether you have to leave the property. It will normally take several weeks before your case is decided in court. If the court grants possession to your landlord, you may have to pay their court costs.
Even if the landlord gets a possession order from the court it must be enforced only with a bailiff’s warrant.
It does not matter if the tenant is in breach of their contract e.g. they owe rent, or won’t allow the landlord in to do repairs, or the fixed term of the tenancy agreement has come to an end.
The only defence a landlord has against a claim of illegal eviction is if they genuinely believed that the occupier had permanently left the property. If you intend to leave your property for a long period but you will be returning, it is important that you continue paying your rent and do not remove all your belongings.