Don’t Shoot the Messenger #9 – How the Police can land you in hot water

Don’t Shoot the Messenger #9 – How the Police can land you in hot water

10:58 AM, 17th April 2012, About 10 years ago 36

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Don't shoot the messengerImagine 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.

Wrongful advice:

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.



Comments

by Mary Latham

12:35 PM, 16th December 2012, About 10 years ago

I have only just caught up with this discussion. Very well said Tony I could have written that post myself word for word. I was horrified by the lack of knowledge of landlords when I started a landlords association and ran a help line. I am horrified regularly these days because they have not moved forward and many landlords just do not understand that with that rent payment comes legal responsibilities that often do not seem fair.
Follow me on Twitter @landlordtweets

by

22:14 PM, 16th December 2012, About 10 years ago

Thanks guys that's exactly the problem she gave me absolutely no notice whatsoever. I was an excellent tenant who paid promptly and treated the house with full respect. I have an excellent rental history and can honestly say the issue was her mental health disorder. Bearing in mind she gave me no notice at all is there any assistance the police could/should have given on the day to recover my property? And Ben, thanks for replying on a Sunday. That is waaaay to dedicated!

by

12:18 PM, 5th February 2013, About 9 years ago

I have just be Illegally evicted in a very bizarre way. I had a council property that has needed a huge amount of repairs that would require me to leave the property but this has never been offered. After a considerable time of living with these defects, I moved my stuff out with a view to getting the repairs done, tidy the place up of my remnants and then giving the required 28 days notice. I know this is a strange thing to do but there was water damage to ceilings etc and I wanted to be able to protect both myself against possibly future charge for disrepair. I was moved into the property when in financial hardship, the place was in a mess but I was desperate otherwise my family would be homeless. The council abused my desperation for housing to take on such a place in disrepair but assured us all works would be done and to just make a list. I didn't want this to be done again to another tenant hence the steps I have taken. However in the process of my move I returned after 16 hours to the property to find the locks changed, I have no arrears of any kind and no formal notice has been served, of any kind. I return to my , what was meant to be temporary dwelling to find an email stating that the council had changed the locks as they found the place insecure, i.e my doors weren't locked, they entered the property took pictures of the property, feed my fish and changed the locks. Then informed my by email at 17.01 after the office had closed that If I did not contact them by 4th Feb that they would take that as the start of my 28 days notice. I couldn't enter my own property and they still refuse to talk to me on the phone now stating the they will have all the goods that remain removed and I will be charge for the ensuing clean up, all the while ignoring the fact that changing the locks is illegal eviction, I am bewildered.

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

14:08 PM, 5th February 2013, About 9 years ago

I too am bewildered Jay. If a PRS landlord behaved that way I would be straight onto them. Councils can often be incompetent but what you describe is frankly bizarre. I would go over the heads of the officers responsible for dealing with you and if nothing comes of that I would suggest putting in a formal, stage 1 complaint. Additionaly you could contact your MP, it really does help

by

18:19 PM, 5th February 2013, About 9 years ago

I have made a formal complaint but what is formal stage 1 is it just the first formal complaint

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

18:30 PM, 5th February 2013, About 9 years ago

Thats fine.Its all procedural with councils. If you arent happy with stage 1 you go to stage 2. Your own council's website will have guidance on the complaints procedure. You cant go to the Ombudsman until you have exhausted the council's own internal complaints procedure.

Complaining to your MP at any time is a good idea, because the various officers involved have to write reports on what has been going on. It isnt an empty threat to go to your MP, although in actuality they do little but get their secretary to write to the council saying 'What's happening with this case?' but feathers do get ruffled, trust me.

by

3:53 AM, 6th February 2013, About 9 years ago

But illegal evictions are a criminal offence surely I need some form of prosecution body, which is meant to come from councils but they again are the abusers. Can I take it to another council for prosecution? The Police obviously don't want to know and I don't even know if it's possible to bring action against someone yourself.

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

7:25 AM, 6th February 2013, About 9 years ago

I would want to to talk to the officers involved here before I decided an illegal eviction had taken place or if it was some form of 'Deprivation' and I find it difficult to believe that an entire council wont talk to you.

It is not unknown for council officers to have excluded people from a property but in my experience it is always an accident or misunderstanding that amounts to the lesser offence of Deprivation. The case law to look to is Crown Lands Commissioners v. Page 1960 where the judge held that for an illegal eviction to have taken place the exclusion must be permanent and Costello v Camden 1986 where it was held that where a person was out of their property for a short period it might only amount to deprivation. Before the TRO can go around laying charges we need to know what those charges are, which is why I would want to talk to the council.

Sorry Jay but I get the impression there is crucial information you are not telling me here.

by

0:50 AM, 7th February 2013, About 9 years ago

No your right I'm looking collectively at a council as opposed to the individuals or department, just very angry. I have made my complaint formally via there site. I'm sure they would probably want to argue Deprivation, looking at what you have stated as, I think there actions would be arguable to that defence to some degree, I would have to disagree though as their email states they have changed the locks to make the property secure (changing the locks would only make it secure from me) and that I must remove all my items by the 4th February 2013. That seems to me that I've been told that the property is no longer mine otherwise why did I have to remove my goods before I have even given notice. Then they stated that my 28 days notice would start from the 4th Feb, again none of this was decided by me but told to me after the locks were changed. What crucial info would you need as long as it's not any risk I can post but I would be happy to send a private PM if your interested.

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

3:21 AM, 7th February 2013, About 9 years ago

Jay I would like to keep the discussion on here as it is
helpful for P118 readers.

If your landlord is the council there are a number of ways
you could be occupying which I am not clear of.

Section 188 placement = temporary accommodation provided
while the council investigate a homelessness application.

Introductory tenancy = you have been offered accommodation
on a probationary, usually 12 month agreement. They can evict without proving
cause but you have a chance to request a review of the eviction.

Demoted tenancy = you were at one time a full council tenant
but for some reason, usually anti social behaviour, they demote your tenancy. As
with introductory tenancies they can evict without going through the full rigmarole
and again you have a chance of a review.

Secure tenancy = a standard council tenancy with full
protection of the Housing Act 1985.

The rights of an occupier and the eviction procedure is
different for all.

However, apart from section 188 placements they would need
to have first obtained a possession order from the court before eviction would
be lawful.

I am as confused as you though. If they say they found the
property unsecure and secured it, then as you say they would have secured it
for you, not for them and should provide a key tout-suite not tell you to clear
your stuff out.

Sometimes an authority gets information that leads them to
believe that a property has been abandoned, but if there is evidence in the
property that indicates an intention to return, furniture and clothes would be
the usual, then they cant presume you have abandoned.

This is why I said to you there is missing information. I
cant believe any council team would be that daft. There has to be something you
are missing


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