Facing Illegal Evictions: What Are My Rights As A Private Renting Tenant?
What is an illegal eviction?
Landlords and letting agents must follow the correct procedures to evict tenants.
If your landlord or anyone acting on their behalf forces you to leave by threatening you, physically removes you, stops you from accessing your home or changes the locks whilst you are out, without following the correct legal steps, they are illegally evicting you.
It is a criminal offence for a landlord to harass or unlawfully evict you.
What is the correct procedure?
Eviction is a legal process which takes time, and a notice is usually the first step your landlord can take to end your tenancy.
1. Your landlord must serve a valid notice.
The notice your landlord is required to serve depends on the type of tenancy you have. Most private renters have an assured shorthold tenancy, which means your landlord could serve a section 21 notice or a section 8 notice.
A section 21 notice is the most common way to end an assured shorthold tenancy. A section 21 is sometimes called a ‘no fault’ notice because your landlord does not need to give a reason for the notice. It must give at least two months’ notice. Your landlord has 4 months from the end date on the notice to start court action.
A section 8 notice can be used to evict an assured shorthold tenant or an assured tenant. Your landlord needs a legal reason or ‘ground’ to use this type of notice and they must prove the ground at a court hearing. The most common reason for a private landlord to use a section 8 notice is rent arrears. Your landlord can start court action when the notice period ends. The notice expires if your landlord does not start court action within a year of giving you the notice.
You should seek legal advice as soon as possible to identify whether your notice is valid.
2. Your landlord must apply to the court for a possession order
If you do not leave by the date specified on the notice, your landlord can issue a claim for possession in the County Court. This is less likely if you are no longer in rent arrears but it can still go ahead.
If the notice your landlord serves is invalid, your landlord will not be able to obtain a possession order from the court.
It is open to tenants to defend the claim for possession. Legal aid is available for this in many circumstances and tenants should always seek advice, even where the landlord has used a s.21 notice.
3. Your landlord must apply for a warrant for possession
Only the court bailiffs’ can remove you from your home. If someone other than the court bailiffs including the police threaten to remove you, this would be an illegal eviction.
A date for eviction will only be set once a possession order is made.
What if I receive a ‘Notice to Quit’?
A notice to quit is used to end some fewer common types of tenancies but your landlord can only give you this type of notice if you are an ‘occupier with basic protection’.
This notice must:
- Give at least 4 weeks’ notice
- End on the first or last day of a tenancy period
- Contain certain legal information, including where to get advice
It can only be used to end a rolling agreement. For example, a monthly or weekly agreement and your landlord still must apply to court if you do not leave by the end of the notice.
What if my landlord tells me I have an excluded tenancy?
If you have an excluded tenancy, your landlord does not have to go to court to evict you. An excluded tenancy means you are excluded from protection of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
Categories of excluded occupiers include:
- People sharing accommodation with a resident landlord
- Former trespassers granted temporary rights to occupy
- People renting holiday lets
- People occupying accommodation rent free
- Asylum seekers in UKVI accommodation
- Licensees in public sector hostels
- People with no right to rent where the Home Office has served notice
If you do have an excluded tenancy, your landlord will only need to give you ‘reasonable notice’ to quit which is usually the length of your rental payment agreement. For example, if you pay rent weekly then your landlord can give you one week’s notice.
What can I do if I have been illegally evicted?
You can contact your council’s homelessness department if you have been illegally evicted and need emergency accommodation.
Your landlord must also return your belongings or allow you to collect them otherwise you can claim compensation through the court if your belongings are lost or damaged.
Your tenancy deposit should be protected with an authorised scheme if you’re an assured shorthold tenant. You can use the scheme’s dispute resolution service to get your tenancy deposit back.
You should seek legal advice as soon as you are faced with an illegal eviction or even just a threat of one. You may be able to make a claim against your landlord for compensation and damages and/or an injunction to get your landlord to let you back in.