By: Madalena Penny
Landlords attempting to evict tenants without adhering to necessary procedures risk prosecution from the courts warned Sim Sekhon of the legal company ‘Legal 4 Landlords’.
Urging landlords not take matters into their own hands, Mr. Sekhon warns that landlords who deliberately, illegally evict tenants face serious penalties, which could result in a custodial sentence.
“Landlords acting alone and without the services of a letting agent should be cautious. Regardless of rent arrears, damage, abuse or criminal activity suspected or caused by tenants, it is important landlords adhere to procedures as laid out by the Housing Act (1988) and the Protection from Eviction Act (1977).”
In October this year, landlord Kenston McIntosh was arrested at Gatwick Airport after refusing to appear at a hearing regarding circumstances surrounding the eviction of his tenant. Mr. McIntosh was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment at Oxford Crown Court after being found guilty of illegally evicting his tenant, forcing him to sleep in an abandoned car for 3 nights.
The court found that McIntosh had refused to co-operate with his tenants housing benefit office in confirming the tenancy leaving the tenant’s claim suspended until Mr. McIntosh’s confirmation, which resulted in rent arrears accruing.
Last year, landlord Geoffrey Dillon was sentenced to a 22-week prison term after unlawfully entering a property and changing the locks while his tenants where out shopping. Denying the family access to collect their belongings in lieu of the unpaid rent, it was subsequently found that a camcorder, their car and a passport were among some of the items missing from the family home.
Under the ‘Protection of Eviction Act (1977)’ and the ‘Housing Act (1988)’, a Notice 8 must be issued to any tenant owing 8+ weeks rent and a Notice 21 to tenants who’s tenancy has reached its term (usually a 6 months AST). These notices inform the tenant that the landlord is applying to the court for an eviction hearing date.
Landlords can also find themselves fall foul of the law due to harassment laws that prevents tenants from living safely and peacefully in their home.
Obviously, some actions are clearly an act of constructive eviction and tantamount to criminal pursuit, such as:
- Changing locks when tenant is not present;
- Cutting off services to the property, i.e.; water, electricity, gas, etc;
- Causing damage to property which results in dangerous conditions for the occupier;
- Implied threats or physical abuse by landlord or third party.
However, some landlords, when challenged with a troublesome tenant can be breaking laws or be in breach of legislation unaware, this includes;
- Visiting tenants outside of the property the landlord is letting. ie; at the workplace; at friends or family member’s residence;
- Visiting the tenant at their property impromptu or outside working hours; ie; late at night;
- Offering the tenant money to vacate the premises.
In response to legislation, Mr. Sekhon recommends,
- Landlords should give a minimum 48 hours notice in writing to a tenant of an impending visit;
- Take an independent witness when dealing with strained situations or when dealing with tenants deemed vulnerable;
- Do not let an issue become personal, remain calm and do not react to threats or verbal abuse. If for any reason a landlord becomes fearful, leave the property immediately.
- If a tenant becomes abusive or violent, leave immediately and report the incident to local police, making a note of the log number.
- Keep a journal of dates, actions and responses;
- Keep copies of all correspondence and ensure that the tenant is forwarded copies.
As with most problems, prevention is more conducive than cure. Ensure correct and thorough tenant reference checks, before you hand keys over and when in doubt seek legal advice. If problems persist, legal steps can be taken against tenants. For more information contact Legal 4 Landlords on free-phone 0800 840 7133 or visit www.legal4landlords.com to connect with an advisor.