Mathew Gillson, a Director of Wirral based letting agents, Concept Lettings (UK) Ltd, has been found guilty of illegal eviction, a criminal offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
Gillson had changed the locks at one of his own properties in Tollemache Street, New Brighton, preventing his tenant accessing the property. This is an offence of unlawful eviction under s1(2) of the Act.
The Court imposed a 12-month conditional discharge on Gillson and he was ordered to pay costs of £2,250 plus a victim surcharge of £15.
The young victim tenant was extremely upset by the actions of his landlord and was said to have been left homeless at a “very vulnerable stage in his life”.
Following the incident an investigation was undertaken by officers from Wirral Council’s Environmental Health team. It was reported in May 2014 after the victim contacted the council when he was unable to gain access to his flat.
Gillson, who lives at Gills Lane, Barnston, said he had believed that his tenant had abandoned the property, which is why he changed the locks.
However, as was pointed out at the trail, this was an unlawful act because he did not follow due process to end the tenancy.
Because of his actions precipitous actions Gillson, a property professional who should have known better, now has a criminal conviction.
A spokesperson for Wirral Council said the case was time consuming and protracted as Gillson had denied any wrongdoing until the day of the trial.
Wirral Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability, Cllr Bernie Mooney, said:
“We are absolutely committed to protecting the most vulnerable people in our community and one of our 2020 pledges to ensure everyone has access to good quality housing.
“We are receiving an increasing number of complaints from tenants of private landlords who are taking matters into their own hands by trying to ‘fast track’ evictions. I would remind all landlords that they must follow the legal process if they are to regain possession of their property, a process which is fair to both the tenant and landlords in allowing the appropriate time for tenants to find alternative accommodation.
“We will protect vulnerable tenants from ’rogue landlords’ who try to operate outside of the law and effectively force them to become homeless. Landlords who fall foul of the law can expect the Council to carry out robust investigations and ensure offenders are brought before the courts.”
Cllr Mooney added: “If landlords are not sure of the correct procedure for gaining possession of their properties they should seek appropriate legal advice. Failure to follow the correct procedure can lead to significant costs being awarded against the landlord by the courts and it also opens the door to civil cases being brought by the illegally evicted tenants for damages, these costs could potentially run into thousands of pounds.”
Private landlords sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that when their tenants miss-behave they have a right to put pressure on them to leave their properties, sometimes using physical force, or even change the locks and evict them.
However, residential occupiers have legal rights to protect them against harassment and illegal eviction and landlords take this path at their peril.
A residential occupier has the right to live in a property because a contract allows them to do so, or because the law says that they can continue to stay there. Harassment and illegal eviction is a criminal and civil offence.
Only those tenants known as `excluded tenants’ namely lodgers and those living in the same building as the landlord are excluded from protection, but they still require to be given reasonable notice, usually one rent term or one month minimum.
Illegal (or unlawful) eviction occurs when a residential occupier is unlawfully “deprived of all or part of their residence”. This covers any tenant who has been evicted whilst their contract is still in force or before the relevant procedure for eviction has been complete (e.g. a court order for possession has come into force and a bailiff warrant for possession issued when the tenant does not leave).
The eviction could be by force or changing the locks whilst the tenant is out. Blocking access to a part of the accommodation, which the tenant has a right to occupy, would also constitute an illegal eviction. This type of offence can be committed by anyone and not just the landlord or his agent.
Is there any defence for the landlord?
A person will not normally be found guilty if they can show that there was reasonable cause to believe that the tenant had stopped living at the premises and there was no intention to return. This is sometimes a contentious area so to be safe landlords should seek a possession order from the courts.
What is harassment?
It is an offence to carry out any act likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of a tenant or anyone living with them and persistently withdraw or withhold services.
Councils have the power to start legal proceedings for offences of harassment and illegal eviction. They will can carry out an investigation and prosecute under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 if they believe an offence has been committed.
Letting Agent Guilty of Illegal Eviction – https://t.co/gCHG3y4zmj
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) November 25, 2015