Most landlords understand that the interest to occupy the property passes to their tenants for the duration of the tenancy. Unfortunately, there are still a few rogue landlords that believe it is their property outright. Consequently, they may try to recover possession by forcing the tenants to vacate against their will. It is a criminal offence to unlawfully evict a tenant under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 (PEA 1977). But what amounts to unlawful evictions?
This is defined under section 1(3) and (3A) of POA 1977:
Section 1 (3)
If any person with intent to cause the residential occupier of any premises—
- to give up the occupation of the premises or any part thereof; or
- to refrain from exercising any right or pursuing any remedy in respect of the premises or part thereof;
does acts calculated to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household, or persistently withdraws or withholds services reasonably required for the occupation of the premises as a residence, he shall be guilty of an offence.
Section 1 (3A)
Subject to subsection (3B) below, the landlord of a residential occupier or an agent of the landlord shall be guilty of an offence if—
- he does acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household, or
- he persistently withdraws or withholds services reasonably required for the occupation of the premises in question as a residence,
and (in either case) he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, that that conduct is likely to cause the residential occupier to give up the occupation of the whole or part of the premises or to refrain from exercising any right or pursuing any remedy in respect of the whole or part of the premises.
The Consequence of Illegally Evicting Tenants
In a recent case at Peterborough Crown Court, a rogue landlord, Mirza Tariq Mahmud Jaral, was found guilty of unlawful eviction. He changed the locks to the rented property preventing the tenant from gaining access and moved into the property. As a result, the landlord was jailed for 12 months and ordered to pay more than £8,000 in compensation to the former tenant. This demonstrates the severe consequences that could arise if found guilty of unlawful eviction. Therefore, we advise that landlords serve the appropriate notice on tenants. Then, they should commence court proceedings to retrieve a possession order, instructing bailiffs or high court enforcement to recover possession. That is, if the tenant has not willingly vacated the property and their rights have not been infringed
Can Landlords Ever Defend Carrying Out an Illegal Eviction?
There is a defence against unlawful evictions. Accordingly, if the landlord believed and had reasonable cause to believe, that the occupier had ceased to reside in the premises and the landlord proves that he/she had reasonable grounds for doing the acts or withdrawing/withholding the services in question (sections 1 (2) and (3B) of PEA 1977).
By Alex Giblett, Legal Assistant at Woodstock Legal Services