What is Harassment?
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.
Harassment – a Criminal Offence
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.
Harassment and Landlords
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.
Landlords – Don’t lose your temper
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.
Landlord Guide – Harassment
- Whilst in occupation and for the duration of the tenancy, tenants have a “legal estate” in the property and a right to treat the premises as their own, within the terms of the lease.
- Try not to visit without 48 hours advanced notice, particularly when you need to inspect the premises or for maintenance – telephone or write first and ask for the tenant’s permission.
- Never enter the tenant’s premises without their knowledge or permission, unless it’s a dire emergency.
- Encourage tenants to report defects promptly and to allow you access by always dealing with problems as quickly as you can.
- If things go wrong, never try to use force or other means to gain entry or try to evict a tenant – you must apply for a court possession order giving specific grounds.
- If relations become strained, and even if rent is not being paid, avoid visiting the premises personally, or take along a witness to avoid being falsely accused of harassment.
- If you are being denied access for inspections, maintenance or gas safety checks keep a record of your attempts at gaining peaceable entry – you will need proof for the authorities to show your attempts to comply with the law.
- Where the tenant appears to have abandoned the property always obtain a court possession order before re-letting – see Abandonment link below.