Harassment and unlawful evictions… a solicitor’s view
Harassment and Unlawful eviction is guided by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
It is an offence for a landlord to engage in behaviour or an activity, or encourage others to do so which could force a tenant to leave a property or interfere with their quiet enjoyment of the property. Also, a landlord must follow due process in order to re-enter a property. Due process means serving a notice, issuing a claim for possession, obtaining an order for possession and enforcing that order with court bailiffs.
What often happens is that the landlord will simply change the locks to the property, or turn off the electric supply. Anything that interferes with a tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the property may be unlawful.
What is your experience?
What I have seen as a housing solicitor is that some landlords do not know what the law is and as such, use unlawful methods to get possession of the property they rent out, sometimes using heavy handed tactics with their tenants. On one occasion a landlord had enforced a possession order with a private bailiff instead of a court bailiff.
I have met a number of clients who have been victims of unlawful eviction and harassment from their landlord. Many of them feel alone, desperate and helpless when faced with situations out of their control. Some put up with the harassment for years and feel it is simply a cost of living there.
I have also met tenants with no written agreement. This is not always a problem as per Street v Mountford  WLR 877 which stated that the elements of a tenancy can be found even if the agreement does not specify a tenancy or even when there isn’t a written agreement at all. The elements of a tenancy are:
- Parties – i.e. landlord and tenant
- Property – physical land
- Term – could be monthly, but often 6 or 12 months
- Rent – often payment of money
- Exclusive possession – the ability to “keep out strangers and keep out the landlord…”
It is now possible to claim a rate of £300 per day the client is out of the property as per Alabbas v Uppelle, Leicester County Court, 8 October 2014 and Bitan v Holme, Stockport County Court, 14 April 2014. Furthermore a 10% uplift can be applied on damages as per Simons v Castle  EMLR 3 .
Also it is possible to claim special and exemplary damages. So a victim of harassment and or unlawful eviction could gain a lot of money.
What can tenants do if faced with harassment or unlawful eviction?
Report it to the police and obtain a reference number. You should also try and find a Solicitor to help as it is a civil matter, as the police are often quick to point out. Some local authorities assist clients to get back into the property when unlawfully evicted. However most would simply process a homeless application.
How does it feel working on one of these cases?
As a solicitor dealing with a case of unlawful eviction, it can be an intense process as the client is often under enormous pressure and needs a quick solution as a priority.
A lot of time is spent negotiating with the landlord if possible. Also, although it is not a requirement, a pre action letter being sent helps if the matter proceeds to Court. It is useful to set out the legal position to the landlord.
I have issued injunction proceedings as they are normally urgent and conducted the advocacy. The injunction is only the start as once it is obtained, it has to be served. Also there are times when the landlord will not comply with the injunction. This obviously increases the damages available but the client is then left for longer without housing. Since it is a criminal offence to unlawfully evict a tenant, often the injunction will include an ability for the Court to sentence the landlord for a breach.
What practical steps tenants can take to avoid a bad landlord?
It is good to speak with the landlord directly and you should be able to gauge what type of person s/he is. But note that landlords can be busy and may genuinely not have enough time to speak with prospective tenants. Reputation and word of mouth can also be quite important.
With the rented sector on the rise, there are organisation like the National Landlords Association which has been created to “raise and maintain standards in the private-rented sector”. So it is worthwhile checking whether the landlord is accredited. But note that just because the landlord is not accredited it does not mean s/he is a bad landlord. More information can be found here.
There are times the landlord may not be authorised to rent out the property so the agreement could be unlawful. It is important for a tenant to check whether the person renting the property is actually the owner. This can be done through a land registry search which should cost £3. This information can prove to be vital before signing a tenancy agreement.
If dealing with an Estate Agent, although it is not a regulated sector, it might be worthwhile checking various bodies such as the: