What is Unlawful Eviction and Harassment?
Local authorities are becoming increasingly trigger-happy in respect of landlord and tenant prosecutions. Such prosecutions can occur when there is a dispute with a tenant over the circumstances of their leaving a property. Often such disputes can be the word of one party against the word of another. As such it is essential that a landlord or other party accused of such an offence gain specialist legal advice if being either investigated or prosecuted.
The law is governed by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977; this Act is relatively complex but can be summarised as follows:
If a landlord or other party tries to make a tenant leave their home, they need to follow certain procedures. Failing to do so amounts to unlawful eviction and can be subject to criminal proceedings. There are three offences under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977
The first is unlawful eviction. This is where a residential occupier (someone who has a right to occupy the premises as a residence) is deprived of their occupation of that premises or part of that premises. This offence can be committed by any person, not necessarily just a landlord or owner but also other third parties for example letting agents.
A landlord or another person may be guilty of unlawful eviction if they:
- Do not give the appropriate legal notice to leave the property that must be given
- Change the locks find the locks have been changed
- Evict a tenant without a court order
A Landlord or other person will be guilty of unlawful eviction unless he can establish that he reasonable grounds to believe that the occupier had ceased to reside in the premises or if he can establish that the person was not a 'residential occupier' for the purposes of the Act. Other defences can include the fact that the person was not in fact deprived of occupation of the premises or if what occurred did not happen with the knowledge or consent of the Landlord or other party.
The procedures to be followed in respect of the ejection of a lawful residential occupier vary depending on the type of tenancy that is in operation. For example, periodic tenancies (usually short term on a month-month or week to weeks basis) will require the landlord to serve a ‘notice to quit’ whereas for a fixed term tenancy the landlord must have a reason to evict i.e. non-payment of rent or anti-social behaviour.
The other offences under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 amounts to harassment. There are two harassment offences and the main differences between the two if that the first requires intention and can be committed by any person whereas the second can only be committed the landlord or his agent and no intention is required.
Anyone who tries to make an occupier leave their premises by threatening violence or making it difficult for them to stay may be guilty of harassment.
Harassment can include:
- threats and physical violence
- the unauthorised stopping of services such as electricity, gas, water.
- withholding keys – i.e. if there are two tenants in a property but the landlord will only give one a key
- refusing to carry out repairs
- anything done on behalf of a landlord that causes distress
A person will be guilty of harassment unless they can establish that they reasonably believed that the occupier did not have the right to be there, that they were not responsible for the actions in question, that the actions in question did not happen or that the harassment did not occur. The defences will likely be factually specific to the allegation and again it is important to gain legal advice.
Should I attend an interview under caution?
I have been invited to an interview under caution, should I go? If an individual is being investigated by a local authority or the police in respect of an unlawful eviction offence they may be asked to attend a voluntary interview under caution. This interview is entirely voluntary to attend and the decision of whether to attend is crucial. Also crucial is the question of what to do if you do attend- answer all questions, answer 'no comment' to the questions or submit a prepared statement instead of answering questions.
It is impossible to give definitive advice as to what avenue should be followed as each case should be considered on its own factual basis. If you have been asked to attend an interview under caution then the authorities are considering criminal proceedings against you and you should seek legal representation before entering into any correspondence or dialogue with the authorities.
Quentin is leading counsel in criminal law with expertise in representing persons accused in Unlawful Eviction proceedings. If you are being investigated or are subject to legal proceedings in respect of Unlawful Eviction please contact Quentin for expert legal advice.
POSTED: Monday, February 23, 2015