The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 (the Act) gives occupiers (who are not within an excluded category) the right to remain in possession of their home and restricts landlords from unlawfully evicting a residential occupier unless they have reasonable cause to believe that the occupier had ceased to reside there. Rather than changing the locks, landlord must follow the correct procedure, as set out below.
If the locks have been changed and you do not fall within the below 3 excluded categories, you should contact a specialist housing lawyer, as this may constitute “illegal eviction”. You may be entitled to legal aid to help you return to the property. Sometimes, you can return to the property and these matters can be resolved without the need to go to court, but if this is not the case then you can apply for an injunction.
In some circumstances, however, the landlord is entitled to legally change the locks with regard to the following categories of occupiers:
- Excluded occupiers. These are individuals who do not have the full rights afforded to tenants (eg lodgers, holiday renters, rent free tenants, and tenants who live in the same property as the landlord);
- The homeless. If the accommodation was provided to a homeless individual on a temporary basis then they, too, do not have protection under the Act; and
- Trespassers and squatters.
Whilst the above categories are not covered by the Act, landlords are still required to provide ‘adequate notice’ for any eviction and must not conduct themselves in a manner which may constitute harassment towards their tenants during this process.
Can I obtain compensation if the locks have been changed?
Tenants have a right to claim compensation for the distress and inconvenience for having been removed from the property, as well as any out of pocket expenses incurred as a result of the eviction. The level of compensation you can recover will vary according to the circumstances of your case.
However, if the claim for compensation is not coupled with a claim to return to the property, the Legal Aid Agency will often refuse funding on the basis that damages only claims are out of scope. However, some practitioners argue that this is wrong and that damages only claims for illegal eviction can still be justified under the legal aid criteria.
What is the correct procedure for eviction?
If a landlord wants to remove a tenant from their property who does not fall within one of the 3 exceptions, they must serve a valid notice on them, which sets out a timescale by which the tenants need to have vacated the property, and to issue possession proceedings at court. The benefit of this is that both parties are aware of their respective legal position and can often negotiate a compromise between themselves based on their immediate priorities within the timeframes.
In these circumstances, if the order for possession has been granted by the court the landlord still does not have the right to change the locks on you even at that stage. They must obtain a warrant of eviction and instruct bailiffs to remove you in order to comply with the Act.