Illegal eviction has long been a criminal offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. However, councils have been slow to prosecute in the past for this offence and a minority of rogue landlords have been getting away with it for years.
This has led, according to landlord groups, to a backlash against responsible landlords, having them tarred by the same brush as the rogues, and as a result, the introduction last year of the “retaliatory eviction” legislation. This legislation will make it more difficult for responsible landlords to legitimately evict a bad tenant if they decide to resist by fabricating dilapidations.
It nearly always counts as illegal eviction if a landlord forces tenants to leave by threatening or harassing them, physically throwing them out or stopping them from getting into certain parts of the property. It’s also illegal eviction if a landlord changes the locks, if the correct procedure for eviction has not been followed. This does not apply in the case of lodgers who live in the landlord’s home.
It can take anything from 3 to 9 months to evict a tenant using the correct legal process, and by far the majority of legitimate evictions are for persistent rent arrears. Figures have shown that so called retaliatory or “revenge” eviction, where a tenant complains about conditions in the property, amount to no more that 2% of the total.
It seems that now, somewhat belatedly, rogue landlords are being weeded out by councils for some of the worst cases of illegal eviction – including one who forced a family of nine into a garage.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has said that councils are cracking down on illegal evictions, with four councils recently securing successful prosecutions in one month alone. But the LGA is now calling for the legal process to be speeded up to bring more cases to court.
The LGA says that recently a mother and young son booted out of their home with their belongings were among tenants wrongfully kicked out of their homes by reckless landlords taking the law into their own hands.
Two of the landlords involved narrowly avoided jail after forcing tenants out of their home without following the correct procedure.
Some recent council prosecutions include:
- In Birmingham, a landlord was prosecuted for illegally evicting a couple and their seven children from their home, changing the locks and shoving the family into the garage. The offence cost him more than £2,000.
- Also in Birmingham, a landlord was forced to pay more than £5,000 after illegally evicting a mother and her 11-year-old son, putting her belongings in the garden and changing the locks. When she regained access using a locksmith he had the locks drilled out, leaving her too scared to stay at the property.
- In North East Lincolnshire, a landlord received a suspended prison sentence after a tenant returned to the flat to find the locks changed and some possessions removed. The landlord said he thought the tenant had left the property.
- In Middlesbrough, a landlord was given a 12-month community order after forcing her way into a home and evicting a family with young children, bundling their possessions into black bags.
- In Manchester, a landlord was fined £3,500 after removing a family illegally and making them homeless.
The Government recently announced £5 million of extra funding to help councils tackle rogue landlords and the Housing and Planning Bill includes provision for maximum fines of up to £30,000.
While this represents good progress says the LGA, it can take more than a year to prosecute a rogue landlord and the LGA is calling for the legal process to be speeded up to bring more illegal eviction cases to court.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, said the recent prosecutions show local authorities won’t allow unscrupulous landlords to bully tenants out of their homes.
Cllr Peter Box, LGA Housing spokesman, said:
“Councils won’t hesitate to take irresponsible landlords to court and show the consequences they may face if they don’t apply the law correctly.
“Making people homeless by bullying them out of their properties, changing locks and removing personal belongings is not only a criminal offence, but also traumatic for the victims.
“When relationships break down between tenants and landlords there are strict legal processes that have to be followed and council officers are here to help both sides move forward.
“No landlord can act outside the law and councils will do everything in their powers to ensure tenants can live in rented properties safe in the knowledge that local authorities are there to protect them from illegal eviction.
“Failure to follow the right eviction process could leave reckless landlords with a criminal record and an unwanted new home themselves – a prison cell.
“An extra £5 million funding from government to help councils tackle rogue landlords as well as proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill for a database of rogue landlords and to allow councils to levy fines up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution, are an important step forward.
“However, any database should be properly resourced and the legal process in relation to prosecutions should be speeded up so that, where appropriate, illegal eviction cases can be brought more quickly to court.”
Only a bailiff can lawfully evict a tenant from their home if they are a private tenant and have an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) or a pre-1989 ‘fair rent’ or regulated tenancy’. Before the bailiffs can come, a landlord must give a tenant notice to leave, go to a court for a possession order and apply to a court for bailiffs to evict the tenant. It’s illegal eviction if a landlord forces a tenant to leave before bailiffs arrive, even if the landlord has obtained a court order or has given the tenant written notice to leave.
Any tenants who believe they have been evicted illegally should contact the housing team at their local council. Any tenant who is subject to violence or is threatened with violence by a landlord should call the police.
Councils are cracking down on rogue landlords – https://t.co/0GPQrRfcPM
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) February 5, 2016