What amounts to harassment by a landlord?
Harassment by a landlord may take various forms – it may involve a landlord interfering with a tenant/occupiers use of the property or engaging in intimidating or violent behaviour. Harassment may often lead to, or occur along with illegal eviction.
A tenant’s right against a landlord engaging in harassing behaviour will depend partly on the nature of the tenancy or licence held at the property. The following gives an overview of common forms of harassment.
The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 gives tenants protection both from harassment and from unlawful eviction. The act applies to residential occupiers and most occupiers will fall under the protection of the act.
The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 defines harassment as:
- acts likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of those living in the property, or
- persistent withdrawal of services that are reasonably required for the occupation of the premises
Actions by a landlord which interferes with the peace and comfort of those living in a property may take many forms, including but not limited to, abusive behaviour, entering the property without permission or constantly visiting the property without good cause or without providing proper notice.
Persistent withdrawal of services may include the disconnection of services such as electricity, gas or water supply for a continuous period without good reason.
Harassment may ultimately amount to or lead to an illegal eviction. An eviction is unlawful if a landlord forces a tenant or an occupier to leave the property without following the necessary legal procedure. For most tenants/occupiers, the correct legal procedure will amount to the service of a valid notice to quit, issuing possession proceedings in the county court and obtaining a possession order and then applying for a warrant which will allow a court bailiff to carry out the eviction.
Examples of unlawful eviction include changing the locks while the tenant/occupier is out of the property, using force or intimidation to cause the tenant/occupier to leave the property or excluding access or use of certain parts of the property which the tenant/occupier would otherwise be entitled to use.
It is worth noting however that the legal procedure a landlord must use to evict a tenant/occupier from a property will very much depend on the nature of the tenancy or licence. Some licences to occupy, for example if your landlord is resident, are excluded from the requirement of a court order. Most occupiers will still be entitled to reasonable notice from a landlord.
What can be done against a landlord?
Under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 harassment and illegal eviction are criminal offences and can also give rise to a civil law claim.
Under civil law, a tenant/occupier may be able to seek an injunction from the court ordering the landlord to cease the harassment complained of and /or allow re-entry into the property.
It is important that a tenant/occupier seeks legal advice as soon as possible if they believe that they may have been unlawfully evicted from the property. The longer that a tenant/occupier is out of the property the more difficult it is likely to obtain an order for re-entry.
A tenant/occupier may also be able to make a claim for compensation if they have suffered harassment or been unlawfully evicted by a landlord. If a landlord has damaged belongings during the eviction or disposed of them without following the correct procedure, this too can attract compensation. A tenant/occupier can also seek an order to return belongings where they have been removed and stored.
Landlords may also be prosecuted for harassment and /or unlawful eviction. The local authority, the police or an individual aggrieved by the landlords conduct may prosecute landlords for these offences. However, the criminal court will not be able to order the landlord to grant re-entry to the property.
As well as seeking independent legal advice, tenants/occupiers may also report the harassment or unlawful eviction to the Local Authority who may be able to assist in taking steps to stop the landlord’s conduct.
Under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which came into force on 3 April 2018, local authorities are under an obligation to provide assistance to eligible persons who are threatened with homelessness or are homeless. If a landlord is engaging in harassing behaviour or has unlawfully evicted a tenant/occupier then that tenant may be threatened with homelessness or would be homeless. The local authority therefore may be under a duty to assist any tenant/occupier by contacting the landlord in question or taking other steps to try prevent their behaviour or assist the tenant in returning to the property.