Don’t Shoot the Messenger #9 – How the Police can land you in hot waterMake Text Bigger
Imagine the scenario. You are being threatened or assaulted in the street, your home has been burgled, your car has been stolen. Who ya gonna call? The cops of course, because they know their stuff, act appropriately and sort it out for you right? They ARE the law.
But what happens when the actions of the Police in assisting you actually puts you in the dock with criminal allegations being made against you? What do you do when you follow the advice of the law professionals and find yourself in court?
This happens thousands of times a year to landlords who ask the Police to help them with a problem tenant.
Why? Because the Police know Jack about landlord tenant law. They aren’t trained in it and they don’t want to know. The minute they hear the words ‘Landlord’ or ‘Tenant’, they take a line that it is nothing to do with them and advise from that position.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing the cops. I work closely with them and have a lot of respect for them. The problem is lack of knowledge not willingness.
There are 3 common problem scenarios that occur whenever the Police get called to an incident between landlords and tenants;
- Wrongfully advising the landlord on their rights and obligations.
- Telling both parties that disputes between landlords and tenants are civil matters.
- Actually helping landlords to illegally evict tenants, thus putting the landlord in the position of having committed a criminal offence, ably abetted by the police themselves.
Whenever a client comes in to see me alleging that they have been either harassed or illegally evicted by their landlord and they tell me Police were involved I physically groan, because I know that my job is suddenly made twice as hard.
People tend to believe the advice given to them by Police and disregard what I say because I am not an officer, so I have a devil of a job just convincing them that they have been mis-advised.
I have taken out injunctions against landlords who doggedly stick to the advice of the Police and are gobsmacked when they find themselves in court explaining themselves to the judge a week later.
Police are not trained in eviction procedures and so in terms of advice on landlord/tenant matters are as clueless as Dave down the pub, with his “A mate of mine told me” school of landlord law.
Disputes as civil matters
This is almost a knee-jerk response to incidents where there is no violence, and sometimes, even when there is violence.
Sure, disputes can be dealt with in civil courts but allegations of breaches of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 are criminal offences, not civil ones. It is the council which prosecutes under this legislation, not the Police and that is where the misunderstanding arises.
This is something that adversely affects tenants more than landlords. When being faced by imminent illegal eviction Police could take action under Section 25 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and arrest anyone who they suspect of committing a criminal offence, but I have never known them to do this in 22 years.
Police illegally evicting tenants
Yes this really does go on, in fact in my area in about 50% of reported cases.
In 2009 the case of Naughton v. Whittle and Chief Constable of Great Manchester Police went through the criminal courts. Manchester Police had to pay a few grand in damages to Ms Naughton for their part in participating in an illegal eviction, as did the landlord, amounting to £11,000.
I recently had a case where an outgoing tenant hadn’t been correctly evicted by the landlord before arranging for a new tenant to move in, who promptly assaulted the old tenant upon finding her still in occupation. Cops were called, ambulance was called. The outgoing tenant complained before being carted off in the ambulance as a result of the assault and the attending officers astonishingly helped the new tenant carry her boxes upstairs to the flat.
When I called the incident room for a report they had logged it as a civil dispute and didn’t even mention the assault, despite the fact that they were there when the ambulance arrived.
What I have been getting a lot of lately is cops being called to an eviction in progress, who grab a piece of paper, even torn from their Incident Report Books (IRBs) and writing a short paragraph saying “I promise to vacate the accommodation in 24/48 hours”, or by the weekend, and getting the tenant to sign it. It has become almost a trend so I would imagine there is some advice doing the rounds in the Police canteen at the moment.
The landlord not surprisingly then goes back 2 days later to change the locks on Police instruction. Or the tenants come to me and I ring the landlord to tell them they have been mis-advised and having the usual endless argument.
I get called to a lot of illegal evictions in progress. It usually starts with me arriving to an angry scene with the landlord and their family or associates chucking bin liners through the door, packed with the tenant’s belongings while I chuck them back through the door and read them the riot act.
The landlord often threatens me and the tenant so I’m forced to call the Police who arrive give the standard advice.
Now to their credit they do instantly listen to what I say and back off, freshly informed but so many of these incidents happen in the evening when I’m not around.
We have repeatedly complained to the Borough Commander about their officers and get letters back saying they will investigate but still it goes on.
Education is the key. When I was doing the job back in the 1990s I trained new Police every 6 weeks and we built a decent relationship. We are trying to set this up again to eradicate the problem but the Police is an even more bureaucratic monster than the council so progress is slow.
Police involvement is a common complaint amongst TROs right across the UK. It’s frustrating and damaging to the rights of both landlords and tenants alike.
So if you are a landlord, please don’t take the Police’s advice as Gospel. Just because the uniform is telling you what you are allowed by law to do it doesn’t mean you are being correctly advised and you will be just as liable to prosecution as any landlord acting in a criminal way.
Please Log-In OR Become a member to reply to comments or subscribe to new comment notifications.