Repossession, Harassment and Illegal Eviction

by Angus Ryan

11:16 AM, 15th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Repossession, Harassment and Illegal Eviction

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Repossession, Harassment and Illegal Eviction

The only way to bring a tenancy to an end is the voluntary surrender on the part of the tenant or for a landlord to obtain a court order for possession. Any other way is likely to be construed as unlawful eviction which is a criminal offence, using violence or changing the locks when the tenant is out for example. Recently a landlord from Oxford was given a three month jail sentence for unlawfully evicting a tenant, leaving the individual with no accommodation and forced to sleep in an abandoned car.

Harassment and illegal eviction is a serious criminal offence and a breach of civil law; the local council has powers to prosecute anyone who commits such an offence. The law says that if you want your tenant to leave then the correct legal procedures must be followed. These procedures include serving the tenant a written notice to quit or Section 21 notice, if required this must be followed by a Possession Order obtained in the county court and finally a consent order for a bailiff.

The whole procedure can take up to six months and cost thousands of pounds in loss of rent and legal fees. I remember a very stressful time when I wanted to move back with my family to my property in Weymouth, Dorset. I issued the tenant a Section 21 in March to get my property back in May, however, the tenant did not leave. Then we had to apply for a possession order and a court hearing was arranged for September.

I remember going down to the courthouse with my heavily pregnant wife and young son to see the judge. The judge thought that we were the tenants! When he realised we were the landlord he said to the tenant “Why are you wasting my time?” and stamped the court order saying case dismissed. Some justice I suppose. We still had to wait until mid-October before we called the bailiff in to move the tenant out completely. It’s an experience I will never forget.

What is Harassment?

Some landlords, if they cannot evict their tenants legally, may try to get them out by committing acts calculated to make them leave their home. This is called harassment.
Examples include:-

  • Threatening the Tenant with violence.
  • Interfering with essential services such as the gas, electric or water supply.
  • Interfering with the Tenants possessions.
  • Making the Tenant hand over the keys to their home.
  • Preventing access to shared facilities such as Kitchen, bathroom and WC.

What is illegal eviction?

Some landlords may force or lock their tenants out without following the correct legal procedures, usually when they do not have proper grounds for eviction.

DON’T DO IT!!!

You could end up in prison and you may be sued for damages to the tenant’s property and for the trouble and inconvenience you have caused them.

Are you being harassed by your Tenant?

I am not joking. I have experienced tenant harassment recently and I was stressed and confused on what to do about it. Since it seems the law mainly favours the tenant with regard to landlord harassment then you would hope that landlords have some protection against their tenant actions where unreasonable.

I recently had an alcoholic tenant who kept texting and phoning me even on bank holidays, weekends and over the Christmas period. He had locked himself out twice and expected me to drop everything and see to his needs straight away.

He thought he was my only tenant and if I did not respond immediately I would usually get subjected to abusive behavior on my voicemail and a barrage of text messages. I felt a bit frightened and it has certainly spoiled some of my family holidays.

I let things fester for too long as I was worried that I might make the situation worse by reporting the tenant and they might even have said I was harassing them! I usually like to treat tenants the same way that I would like to be treated, however, because of the drink problem the tenant was being consistently irrational.

Sometimes the tenant would play loud music and then after a few drinks would forget to turn it off so I would get complaints from the other tenants and the neighbours.

The tenant’s behavior got so bad that one of my other tenants in the same house felt threatened and I had to re-house him on a bank holiday.

In these circumstances where the tenant has gone too far I should have gone down to my local police station and reported him for bullying, harassment and abusive behavior and insist on getting a crime number. The Police should then have warned the tenant. If the behavior continued then you can ask the Police to issue formal charges against the tenant which will possibly mean an arrest.

Remember a landlord has rights just the same as a tenant and I should have stood up for them! Fortunately I served a section 21 on the tenant just after Christmas and they have now left. Eureka!
Please don’t suffer like I did! TAKE SOME ACTION



Comments

Ben Reeve-Lewis

14:29 PM, 16th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Good post Angus and some good points raised.
 
As most P118 readers will know, I am a council Tenancy Relations Officer (TRO) whose job it is to negotiate in these kinds of disputes and prosecute landlords for harassment and illegal eviction.
 
The main piece of legislation that governs a landlord’s harassment and illegal eviction of their tenants is the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, with some ancillary stuff in Section 40 of the Administration of Justices Act, sections 27 and 28 of the Housing Act 1988 and the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, as well as being civil offences under what is know as Breach of Covenant for Quiet Enjoyment.
 
Civil damages are a far worst penalty to get whacked by than the criminal. It is also much faster for a tenant to take civil action and the burden of proof is far less than for criminal cases.
 
Because of these well drafted laws landlords often feel the law is all on the tenants side. Personally I believe it is fairly well balanced as the landlord always has the ultimate sanction of being able to remove the person from their home, albeit, as you point out through a lengthy and unwieldy system that I too think should be shortened and simplified.
 
It’s worth noting that a landlord is not legally responsible for the actions of their tenants unless they either condone or otherwise encourage their actions. It is heartening to hear that you moved your poor tenant and obviously humane and helpful practice but legally you weren’t obliged to. The problem he had with the abusive guy was between the two of them.
 
Section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can help. A person is guilty of harassment if they follow a course of conduct of harassment. A course of conduct is defined as 2 or more actions, although you usually find that the Crown Prosecution service tend to look for 4 separate incidents before prosecuting.
 
Of course any person is entitled to seek an injunction from the county court to stop people harassing them. Don’t get fooled by the legal nonsense around this either. A solicitor will usually charge between £1,800 and £2,000 for obtaining one but the actual court cost is £175 and you only have to fill in 3 quite simple forms.
 
Finally there is Ground 14, which is the eviction ground usually used for anti social behaviour and using the property for immoral or illegal purposes. Only 2 weeks notice is required for this and if the actions of the tenant are severe in nature then the landlord can serve notice and apply straight to court for possession without the 2 week period

4:34 AM, 20th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Great post Angus. Glade to hear that it's all sorted now.

15:23 PM, 20th March 2012
About 7 years ago

For tenants on shorthold tenancies, the most simple method of regaining possession is surely not to renew the tenancy . as long as there is no urgency. 


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