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Illegal eviction and harassment

Private landlords sometimes put pressure on tenants to leave their properties or may even use physical force.

A majority of  tenants have legal rights to protect them against harassment and illegal eviction.

The Protection from Eviction Act 1977

The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 makes harassment and illegal eviction a criminal and civil offence.

Unlawful eviction or a harassment offences can be tried in a Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. The maximum penalty in a Magistrates Court is 6 months in prison and/or a fine of not more than £5000. In the Crown Court it is 2 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; 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 by your landlord or someone on their behalf 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
  • Keep a log/record of details of any conversations you have with your landlord or threats that they have made
  • Request that your landlord communicates and puts all requests in in writing; This could be a text message or email
  • Retain 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 Environmental Health (Residential)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.

Contact us

If you are concerned about an illegal eviction, please contact the Environmental Health Residential Team.