Paying The Cost of Illegal Eviction
Every landlord has wished at some time that he or she could evict a tenant without the time cost and frustration of Court proceedings. Every practitioner is repeatedly asked “Why can’t I just change the locks?” The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 is clear. With a residential property a landlord must get possession by enforcing a Possession Order. Two recent cases before District Judges in London, reported in Legal Action, illustrate the financial consequences of a landlord taking the law into his or her own hands.
In the first case the Claimant was an Assured shorthold tenant of one room in a house of multiple occupancy paying £350.00 a month. The landlord came to the property and falsely claimed rent had not been paid. He told all the occupiers of the HMO they had to leave. He returned the following day with his agent and changed the locks to the front door. When the Claimant tried to re-enter the property having called the Police three times, the landlord’s agent pushed him violently and kicked him in the back and chest. The tenant was taken to hospital and discharged later that day. He was only allowed to enter the property to collect his possessions. He spent twenty-nine nights sleeping on a friend’s floor and was then in temporary accommodation in a hostel for five months. The HMO was marketed six weeks later with one tenancy for the whole property.
The Judge ordered the landlord to pay compensation to the tenant being £1,000.00 for the assault, general damages at £300.00 per night for twenty-nine days sleeping on a friend’s floor, £190.00 per night for fourteen nights in a hostel, aggravated damages of £2,000.00 and exemplary damages of £1,800.00 being the amount the Judge considered the landlord would have spent on legal costs by falsely claiming failure to pay rent as an excuse to evict. The total was £16,332.19.
In the second case, the tenant moved into a one bedroom property. Although it was meant to be fully furnished it only had a bed, a sofa, a coffee table, an old cooker, a fridge and a washing machine but no gas or electricity supply when the tenant moved in. Two days later the landlady turned on the electricity supply. The following day the tenant tried to use the washing machine. Water poured out of it and the tenant heard the sound of sparking. He called the Fire Brigade who had to turn off the electricity supply. The following day the landlady told the tenant to leave. He slept on the streets for seventy days, apart from three weeks in a hostel. He was awarded compensation of £200.00 per day for seventy days, aggravated damages of £2,000.00 and exemplary damages of £1,500.00 being a total of £17,500.00.
In both cases the interest and the tenants’ costs would have increased the liability of the landlord by many thousands of pounds.
These cases are referred to because they are recent, not because the compensation is exceptional. There have been numerous cases where much greater sums have been awarded against landlords.
Moreover a landlord who is successfully prosecuted under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 must face the prospect of an immediate substantial custodial sentence.
Whatever the frustrations of obtaining Possession Orders, the ‘’self help” option should not be considered.
If you have any queries concerning this or any other Housing Management matter please contact Jeremy Teall on 020 8567 3477