What is harassment?
Harassment can take many forms and can include:
- Making threats to persuade a tenant to leave
- Persistently cutting off or restricting essential services such as gas, electricity or water
- Interfering with the tenant’s post
- Frequent unnecessary 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 both a criminal offence and a breach of civil law. A landlord may use in his defence, that his action was 'reasonable' for instance in an emergency.
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 act appropriately and 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. This is both a criminal offence and a breach of civil law.
Where to get help and advice
- You can get advice on legal issues from a specialist housing solicitor or Citizens Advice
- Shelter Cymru can provide advice on housing related issues and in some cases can act as your legal representative
- Ceredigion County Council Housing Department may be able to give you some advice or tell you where you can get advice on ending a tenancy