Landlord & tenant – illegal evictions
  • 29th Sep 2017
  • Article written by Christopher Longden
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Living in rented accommodation comes with plenty of uncertainty. Your landlord could serve an eviction notice on you at any time, especially if your tenancy agreement has ended. But sometimes, evictions are unfair, unjust, or plain illegal. So what constitutes an illegal eviction and what can you do to defend your rights as a tenant? Here’s a quick guide to illegal evictions.

Section 21 Notice

If you’re on an assured shorthold tenancy agreement, then your landlord must follow a set procedure to ensure an eviction is legal. First, they must serve what is known as a Section 21 notice. This is basically your ‘notice to quit’ and must by law give you a period of two months to vacate the property.

If by the end of those two months you are still in the property then the landlord has the right to serve a notice seeking possession, which they must get from the county court for a possession order. The court will grant this order, and give the tenant a set date for them to leave the property. The landlord must wait for this date before taking any further action. If the tenant still refuses to leave the property then the landlord can then escalate the case to the high court, and employ enforcement officers to carry out an eviction. Be aware that if your landlord does escalate the case to the high court then you won’t receive any further notification, and will be forced to leave the property on the date the enforcement officers arrive.

Up until the point where the case has been escalated up to the high court, the tenant is entitled to notification that keeps them updated with the progress of the eviction. This also applies to repossessions by mortgage lenders. Throughout the process, you have the right to be informed of all proceedings.

Who is allowed in?

Only high court enforcement officers (bailiffs) have the right to forcibly remove a tenant. The landlord or letting agent does not have right of access to a property without your permission, and forced entry could be regarded as harassment.

The key piece of legislation to refer to is the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, which clearly lays down the various definitions of harassment, which includes refusal to carry out repairs, intentional damage to the property, insulting or threatening behaviour, withholding keys, or changing the locks.

Many of these tactics are used by unscrupulous landlords to force tenants to move out. An eviction that has been brought about by constant harassment (or even bribery) constitutes an illegal eviction, especially if they forcibly throw you out of the property, change the locks to prevent you gaining entry, or threaten you. Remember that, even when a landlord has a court order, the only people that can remove you from your property are high court enforcement officers.

When the landlord has the right to evict

Landlords do have a level of protection too, and can evict tenants:

  • If the end of a fixed term contract has been reached
  • At the end of the period set out in a legal notice to leave (a section 21 notice)
  • By obtaining a section 8 notice, which can notify you of eviction at any time during the duration of the tenancy agreement, for example if you are in arrears or have broken the terms of your tenancy agreement.

If you don’t leave then the landlord has the right to apply to the court for a possession order. However, there is no guarantee that the court will grant the order, and you are entitled to represent your case in court if you disagree with the landlord’s claims.

For a section 21 notice, there isn’t automatically a court hearing, and the court can use an accelerated possession procedure if they feel the landlord has a justified claim for repossessing the property. A section 21 notice can be challenged, especially if the procedure has been incorrect (including something as small as a spelling mistake). But if that section 21 notice has been correctly issued, then you will have to comply with the decision, and leave the property.

Protection for landlords and tenants

The law is designed to provide protection for both landlords and tenants when it comes to evictions. It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that any eviction is legally compliant, and the tenant is obligated to comply with the clauses in their tenancy agreement, as well as with the law.

If you are worried that you are being harassed or illegally evicted by your landlord, then it is important you speak to a legal advisor as quickly as possible. Landlords and letting agents should also have access to legal representation during tenancy disputes, so they are not left out of pocket.