Harassment occurs when landlords or letting agents interfere with a tenant's quiet enjoyment of their residential tenancy. This can be anything from too many menacing visits to the property, without reasonable notice, to interfering with essential utilities such as the electricity supply, or just simply bullying and threatening behaviour.
In England & Wales harassment is both a civil and criminal offence and is taken seriously by the law enforcers - the police and the courts. Landlords harass their tenants at their peril: at the risk of a hefty fine, a criminal conviction and in extremis, imprisonment.
It has been a criminal offence since 1964 to harass or unlawfully evict an occupier who is legally entitled to be on the premises. In the short-term this can include trespassers (squatters), though landlords can quickly remidy this situation through the legal system.
The 1988 Housing Act extended the offence of harassment, introducing a right to civil action for damages by wrongfully evicted occupiers.
The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 defines harassment as: any act(s) likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or any members of his or her family, or the persistent withdrawal of services reasonably needed for occupation.
Never be tempted to coerce or otherwise pressurise tenant/s into leaving no matter how bad they are. Particularly avoid personal confrontations.
If you must visit tenants under strained circumstances try always to take along an independent witness.
It is very difficult to prove a negative, so if you are wrongfully accused of harassment you might find yourself in a very difficult situation if you don't have a witness.
As a landlord you need to psychologically write off any losses including loss of rent and any damage which may be done. The penalties of being convicted of harassment and unlawful eviction could be far far worse than any financial losses caused by a bad tenant.
Be particularly careful where a tenant has left the property unoccupied for extended periods. Although the agreement may stipulate that the property must not be left unoccupied beyond, say, 14 days, without informing the landlord, you cannot assume that the tenant has left voluntarily.
Never be tempted to change the locks and remove tenants' possessions in such circumstances. If you have handled the tenancy application correctly you should always have sufficient information to contact the tenant or a relative.
If the tenant appears to have abandoned the property the only safe way to regain legal possession is to obtain a court Possession Order before re-letting.