Illegal Eviction and Harassment
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.
What is Harassment?
The law makes it an offence to:
- Do acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of a tenant or anyone living with them
- Persistently withdraw or withhold services for which the tenant has a reasonable need to live in the premises as a home
It is an offence to do any of the things listed above intending, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that they would cause the tenant to leave their home or stop doing the things a tenant should normally expect to be able to do.
Some examples of harassment might be:
- Threats, abuse or actual violence
- Threatening you if you refuse to leave the property.
- Cutting off or interfering with services, (water, gas or electricity supply)
- Entering your home without your permission
- Stopping you from having visitors to stay
- Sending in builders without notice or visiting at unsociable hours
- Harassment because of your age, race, gender or sexuality
- Constant telephone calls and/or text message
If you feel you are being harassed then we advise you to do the following:
Keep a diary of incidents including dates and times with photographs. This will be evidence if you go to court.
- Record details of any conversations you may have with your landlord or threats that he may have made
- Ask your landlord to put everything in writing.
- Keep a copy of your tenancy agreement and any notices and letters that the landlord sends you
- Have someone else with you to witness meetings/dealings with your landlord.
- Note the names and addresses of people involved including witnesses
Help from the Council
The Council’s Housing Standards Team can help by providing advice and assistance to both tenants and landlords.
We will try to prevent harassment and illegal evictions by speaking with both the tenant and the landlord and attempt to resolve any disputes.
We will try to negotiate with landlords to allow tenants to return to their home and to stop any harassment.
We can arrange for your gas, water or electricity to be reconnected if your landlord has stopped the supply and refuses to reconnect them.
We will provide advice to landlords on the correct legal procedures they should follow should they wish to evict a tenant.
If tenants are unable to return home or do not wish to then the Housing Advice Section will provide advice on finding alternative accommodation.
Where it is proven that an offence has occurred the Council may seek to take legal action against the offender.
How the police can help
You should contact the police immediately if you feel at risk or in danger or you are having problems outside of normal office hours. They should attend to prevent a breach of the peace and may try to get you back in your home.
If the police attend take a note of the attending officer’s name and badge number and ask for a log / incident number so the Council can obtain details from the police.
Can tenants take their own action?
If a landlord or his agents commits an illegal eviction or harassment they have also committed a civil wrong under Section 27 Housing Act 1988.
Civil courts can provide effective legal solutions for a tenant to obtain:
- an injunction ordering the landlord to allow you into your accommodation following an unlawful eviction and/or to stop a landlord’s acts of harassment
- compensation or damage for loss or injury
You will be able to find a list of local solicitors in the Yellow Pages, Thompson Directory or through an Internet search engine.
If you receive benefits and / or are on a low income you may be eligible for Legal Aid or assistance with legal fees.
Housing Standards Team
Telephone: 01254 388 111