What is harassment?
Harassment can take many forms and can include:
- Making threats to persuade a tenant to leave
- Cutting off or restricting essential services such as gas, electricity or water
- Interfering with the tenant’s post
- Frequent visits by the landlord or representatives to the property, particularly if these occur late at night or without warning
- Entering a tenant’s room or property without the tenant’s permission
- Preventing a tenant’s access to the property or part of the property
- Allowing the property to get into such a bad state of repair that it is dangerous to live in
- Physical violence against the tenant
- Discrimination because of gender, race, disability or sexuality
These and other acts likely to put pressure on a tenant to leave their accommodation could be harassment. This is a criminal offence and a breach of civil law.
What is Illegal Eviction?
Illegal eviction is the attempted or actual eviction without following the correct legal process. Common examples of this include where the locks are changed (without due process) preventing the tenant from gaining access or where a tenant is forced out by threats, intimidation or actual violence. Actions such as locking the toilet door or blocking access to a part of the building the tenant has a right to occupy also constitute illegal eviction.
Who could break these laws?
The law states that the landlord, their agent or any other person could have action taken against them for acts of harassment or illegal eviction, if it can be shown that s/he had an intent or had reasonable cause to believe that their actions were likely to cause an occupier to leave all or part of the property. Prosecution can arise if the act is carried out intentionally or recklessly.
What are the penalties for harassment and illegal eviction?
If a landlord has acted unlawfully, there are different ways in which action can be taken. These can, if necessary, all be taken together.
- The Local Authority or tenant’s representative could intervene to try to stop the harassment taking place
- The Local Authority has the power to prosecute the person responsible for the harassment and/or illegal eviction in the criminal courts. A substantial fine and/or a prison sentence of up to 2 years could be ordered on conviction
- The Local Authority’s Environmental Health Officers could take action if repairs are needed. They can also order a landlord to re-connect essential services if these have been disconnected
- Legal action could be taken on behalf of tenants in the County Court for compensation (damages). The tenant may be eligible for legal aid to fund the costs of legal action and the courts have powers to order very high levels of compensation. (Can be tens of thousands.) An injunction may be served to stop the harassment or to order the landlord to allow an illegally evicted tenant to re-enter the property
- The police can take action where violence or assault, or threats of violence, have taken place
It is clearly important for both landlord and tenant always to end a tenancy in the correct legal manner. There is advice and support available to landlords to help ensure that the correct procedures have been followed.
Who is protected from illegal eviction?
Most people living in rented accommodation are protected by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This means they cannot be made to leave their home without the proper legal process being followed. So in almost all cases a landlord must first give the correct notice to the tenant to leave (usually in writing and 2 months notice if the tenant has abided by the tenancy agreement). If the tenant decides not to leave at the end of this period the landlord must get a court order for possession. Note that as long as the correct procedure has been followed the court order will be granted to the landlord and the tenant may be liable for costs. If necessary, bailiffs authorised by a court warrant can use reasonable force to evict.
To force someone out of their home by any means other than with a court order could be an illegal eviction and subject to criminal investigation by the law enforcement agencies. This is both a criminal offence and a breach of civil law.
Don’t risk breaking the law, always get advice
There will usually be a way of ending a tenancy lawfully and regaining possession of the property. It is important for all parties that the tenancy is ended lawfully and ultimately it can be quicker for a landlord to regain possession of the property if the correct procedures are followed.
Where to get help and advice
- You can get advice on legal issues from a specialist housing solicitor or Citizens Advice
- You could consider joining a landlords’ association which will be able to give you advice on a wide range of issues including the correct way to serve notice and get a possession order from the courts
- Please contact the Housing Department to be able to give you some advice or tell you where you can get advice on ending a tenancy
If you want to end any tenancy (or licence) and get your property back, you must give your tenant notice of when you want the tenancy (or licence) to end and the latest date by which they must leave.
The type of notice and the time period you must allow will depend on the type of tenancy or whether it is a licence or not and on the reason for asking the tenant to leave.
For most tenancies, the notice you give must be in a particular form which includes certain information and warnings. This will usually have to be in writing. You can obtain a standard form of notice to quit from legal stationers.
You have an automatic right to possession at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy, as long as you have given your tenant the correct notice to quit, however, you will still need to go to Court for a possession order if the tenants do not want to leave.
Ending an assured shorthold tenancy
Once the fixed term has expired (usually 6 or 12 months, see the tenancy agreement) the landlord has an automatic right of possession without having to give any reasons. In order to obtain possession however the landlord must serve a Section 21 notice (Housing Act 1988), giving a minimum of 2 months notice (from next rent due date) to the tenant to vacate. You should seek legal advice about the correct procedure for this as an incorrectly served notice may delay your gaining possession. If your tenant leaves the property within the notice period, you can re-enter your property, and will not need to contact the courts for assistance.
If the notice period expires and your tenant has not left the property, you will need to start the process of eviction through the courts. You should not attempt to forcibly remove your tenant from your property. If the Courts see fit, they will arrange for the recovery of the property.
Ending an assured shorthold tenancy early
There are some circumstances where a landlord may be able to seek possession of the property before the fixed term comes to an end for example;
- The tenant is behind with the rent (must be an amount in accordance with Housing Act 1988)
- The tenant has caused damage to the property
- The landlord wishes to live in the property as his/her main home
There are a total of 17 grounds for ending a tenancy early. In order to obtain possession the landlord must serve a notice under Section 8 (Housing Act 1988). The notice to quit varies from 2 weeks to 2 months, depending on the reason for gaining possession. You should seek legal advice about the correct procedure for this as an incorrectly served notice may delay your gaining possession.
If your tenant leaves the property within the notice period, you can re-enter your property, and will not need to contact the courts for assistance.
If the notice period expires and your tenant has not left the property, you will need to start the process of eviction through the courts.
Ending a licence agreement
Your tenant may have a licence instead of tenancy. This would usually be where they are living in your home with you as a lodger and do not have exclusive access to their room. You can end a licence by serving a 'notice to quit'. The notice period will depend on the agreement, but often at least four weeks' notice is required.
If your tenant has an excluded tenancy or licence (for example if they live with you, or in a holiday letting or a hostel) you only need to give 'reasonable notice' which usually amounts to one rental period.
Harassment and Illegal eviction
If the correct procedures are not followed in order to gain possession of the property then you may be prosecuted for harassment and/ or illegal eviction. This can result in heavy fines and in some cases a jail sentence. Prosecutions can be criminal or civil cases and can be brought by the tenant or their representatives or by the Local Authority. For more information on what constitutes harassment please see Harassment and Illegal eviction.
It is always best to seek legal advice over the correct form to end any tenancy or licence agreement. This is because if the correct procedure and format is not followed then the notice may not legally stand and may be thrown out by the court if you have to apply for possession. This will result in you having to start over again with the proceedings and could delay things unnecessarily.
Occasionally landlord and tenant relationships can break down. There are a number of things that you can do to help keep an amicable relationship and ensure the property is looked after.
An important general rule for all dealings with your tenant is to be consistently courteous and professional – even if they don't behave the same way. This can help the tenant to avoid feeling harassed.
Visit your rental property occasionally to keep abreast of any maintenance or neighbour-related issues as they arise. Consider creating a maintenance schedule at the beginning of the lease.
Remember, if you plan to enter the property you are required to give reasonable notice to your tenant before doing so – usually 24 hours. Insufficient notice or visits that are too frequent can cause the tenant to feel harassed. You may wish to collect rent once a month, and discuss any problems with the property at the same time.
Talk to the neighbours to gauge your tenant's conduct. Are they having loud parties every night? Are they continually disturbing the neighbours, and have the police ever been called? Don't assume that everything is fine – be proactive and stay informed.
When a need arises for any maintenance work always act promptly to solve the issue. Remember you will still have the property long after the tenant has moved on so you need to ensure it is taken care of. Delays that seem unnecessary, as well as recurring plumbing or electrical issues, will only breed resentment and distrust.
Choose a firm that you trust and brief them to give notice to the tenant for gaining access to carry out remedial work. Never give a key to the contractor to allow him to let himself in unless already agreed with the tenant for each separate maintenance issue.
Rent issues should be tackled as soon as they arise. Your agreement should provide for rent to be paid regularly on a particular day of the week, month or year. If a payment is missed, notify the tenant straightaway and ask him for the money. If there are serious rent arrears, then the law enables you to get your property back, provided you follow correct procedures.
Keep accurate records
Keep a detailed account of any legal or financial transactions with your tenant, as well as formal and informal correspondence. It's important to have a paper trail of any maintenance issues you've dealt with, as well as warnings or requests you've issued, so that you can refer to them should the need arise in future. Keep copies of all emails or letters to and from your tenant, and write down the dates and details of any telephone conversations you have.
Certain behaviours towards the tenant may be seen to be harassment. Too frequent visits, particularly without prior arrangement, interfering with post or services (gas, electric etc.) letting yourself into the property etc. are all examples of harassment for which you can be prosecuted. This can result in heavy fines and in some cases a jail sentence. Prosecutions can be criminal or civil cases and can be brought by the tenant or their representatives or by the Local Authority. For more information on what constitutes harassment please see Harassment and Illegal eviction.
Illegal eviction is the attempted or actual eviction without following the correct legal process. Common examples of this include where the locks are changed (without due process) preventing the tenant from gaining access, or where a tenant is forced out by threats, intimidation or actual violence. Actions such as locking the toilet door or blocking access to a part of the building the tenant has a right to occupy might also constitute illegal eviction.
If all else fails and there is an irrecoverable breakdown in the relationship then as long as you have followed correct procedure when entering into tenancy agreements, the law will allow you to regain possession of your property. This must be done through the correct procedure.