Landlord and tenant disputes are becoming increasingly prevalent as the private rental market grows. The law protects you as a tenant from becoming a victim of unlawful possession. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that an unprincipled or ill-advised landlord won’t attempt it.
According to the Office of National Statistics, during the quarter to September 2017 there were 34,172 Landlord Possession Claims filed at court.
If a landlord wants to evict a tenant, they have to follow specific, legal procedures. In England and Wales, the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 gives tenants their rights and prohibits eviction “without due process of law”.
If you have an assured shorthold tenancy, your landlord has to give you a minimum notice period, for you to leave the property. If you don’t leave at the end of the period, the landlord has to apply to court for a possession order. Following that, if you still do not leave the property, the landlord can apply to court for a warrant for eviction. A landlord cannot legally remove a tenant from a property. Only a court-appointed bailiff can evict a private tenant.
In some circumstances, landlords can seek eviction of a tenant using the ‘accelerated possession’ process. It’s quicker than the standard eviction process and doesn’t normally result in a court hearing; unless the tenant can convince the court that the correct processes haven’t been followed or of another important matter. A landlord can only pursue an accelerated possession if:
- There is a written tenancy agreement (assured shorthand or statutory periodic tenancy)
- They have given you a minimum of two months’ written notice.
- The landlord hasn’t already asked you to leave before the end of your fixed-term tenancy.
Once the accelerated possession process is ongoing and the judge makes a possession order, you’ll normally have 14 or 28 days to leave the property.
Sadly, not every landlord follows due process.
What is Unlawful Possession?
If a landlord illegally takes back possession of a property from a tenant, this is unlawful possession. There are of course reasons why a landlord might want to take back a property. Regardless, they have to follow the correct legal processes. No exceptions.
Once a landlord serves a notice seeking possession of a property, some tenants will just leave. Perhaps they were planning to move on anyway or they do not wish to go through the court process. If a tenant doesn’t leave of their own free will then the landlord will need to seek a possession order from the court. This does not give the landlord the right to remove the tenant from the property at this stage.
If a landlord takes action such as changing the locks, removing access to certain part of a property, moving in new tenants, or even moves into the property themselves, then this is unlawful possession.
Clearly, if you are a tenant in this situation, it is imperative that you get the right legal advice straightaway.
Harassment from Landlords
If a landlord acts in a way which makes a tenant feel unsafe in a property or acts in a way that gives a tenant no option but to leave, then this is harassment.
Harassment can take many forms, but can include:
• Stopping access to gas, electricity and water.
• Changing the locks and not giving a tenant the keys
• Entering the property without sufficient notice, as per the tenancy agreement
• Refusing to carry out repairs when needed
• Removing your property without consent.
• Threats and physical violence.
• Frequent calls and/or emails
• Regularly offering a tenant money or other incentives to leave.
If you are a tenant that is currently being harassed by a landlord, you can report the matter to the police.
There are also other legal remedies. A landlord can be forced to stop harassment or unlawful possession. A tenant can obtain a county court injunction to stop the harassment.
How we can help with unlawful possession disputes
We understand that disputes between landlords and tenants are often stressful and need to be dealt with professionally and promptly. We have a great track record and always act in our clients best interests.
Our dedicated landlords and tenants team consists of experienced, local solicitors with our clients being their number one priority. Give the team a call on 01244 373373. Alternatively, fill out our online contact form and we will call you back at a time that is convenient for you.
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