What is illegal eviction?
Illegal eviction is when a landlord, or anyone acting on their behalf, forces a tenant to leave their home by threatening or harassing them, using physical force, preventing them from accessing certain parts of their home, or changing the locks while they’re out.
An eviction may also be classed as illegal if the tenant is not given proper notice to leave the property and/or the landlord evicts them without a court order.
In law, tenants are protected from illegal eviction under section 1 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, which says it is illegal for landlords to:
Deliberately and unlawfully try to force a tenant out without following the correct eviction process;
Do things on purpose to make a tenant leave their home or give up their rights as a tenant.
Can a landlord kick you out?
A landlord can’t kick a tenant out of their home unless they have good reason and they must go through the proper channels for eviction. Usually, this involves going to court and getting a possession order.
If a landlord does attempt to force tenants to leave without following the correct legal eviction process, it could be classed as illegal eviction.
How to tell if an eviction is illegal
For private tenants, a landlord can’t just show up out of the blue and ask them to leave. And they certainly can’t threaten a tenant with violence, use physical force, or change the locks while they’re out. These are all signs of an illegal eviction.
Furthermore, a landlord can’t evict a private tenant without bailiffs being present.
Is illegal eviction a criminal offence?
Yes, if a landlord evicts a private tenant, student living in halls, or a council or housing association tenant without getting a court order and asking bailiffs to carry out an eviction, it is a criminal offence.
Can the police stop an illegal eviction?
The police can stop an eviction in process if it is illegal and is not being carried about in the proper way.
As illegal eviction is a criminal offence the police can:
Make the landlord aware that they may be committing a crime and ask them to leave;
Request that the landlord let the tenant re-enter the property and/or change back the locks or return the tenant's key;
Obtain evidence relating to assaults, breaches of the peace, or harassments under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997;
Arrest the landlord if they are committing or about to commit a criminal offence, including forcing entry into the rental property;
Report the landlord to the local council’s relevant private sector housing team;
Help tenants access emergency housing.
Can a landlord be arrested for illegal eviction?
If a landlord is using or threatening violence to enter a tenants home, they are committing a crime and can be arrested.
Recently, the police in London were given guidelines drafted by Scotland Yard, the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and Generation Rent to start arresting landlords who illegally evict tenants after it was revealed that some police officers were enabling unlawful evictions by refusing to attend because they saw it as a civil matter or even assisting the landlord to carry out the eviction despite it being illegal.
This is not an uncommon occurrence and actually one I have experienced first hand while dealing with a client’s unlawful revenge eviction matter. When we complained to the police about their handling of the situation, the police cited lack of knowledge about landlord and tenant law as their reason.
While we all want to have faith that our local police service will recognise the key signs of illegal eviction and act accordingly, this is clearly not the case.
For that reason, it’s important to know your rights and seek professional legal help both if you have been illegally evicted and you feel your matter was mishandled by the police.
Can a landlord go to jail for illegal eviction?
A landlord can go to jail for up to two years for illegally evicting a tenant or receive an unlimited fine.
How to stop an illegal eviction
If a tenant believes they’re at risk of illegal eviction an important first step is to get advice either from the council, renters union or a qualified landlord and tenant solicitor.
Get help from the council
Local councils can help with illegal evictions where tenants are at risk of losing their home in the next 8 weeks. Each council has a team that deals with harassment and illegal eviction.
The council can talk to the landlord, make them aware of the laws around eviction, and in some cases start legal proceedings.
If you rent a property in London, you can also report a rogue private landlord or letting agent here.
Speak to a renters union
Renters unions can attend an illegal eviction and resist the eviction with you.
Members of renters unions like ACORN regularly attend evictions and link arms in front of the property to stop a landlord from kicking tenants out from their home.
Get legal advice
A solicitor who specialises in evictions or landlord and tenant disputes can advise you on your rights and help you understand what legal action you can take against a landlord in the event of illegal eviction.
A tenant lawyer can also help you and your landlord negotiate an agreement through mediation and alternative dispute resolution.
Can I sue my landlord for illegal eviction?
If someone is illegally evicted they can take their landlord to court for:
A ‘without notice’ (emergency) injunction to get back into the property; and
To claim compensation (damages) for general damages (e.g. stress and inconvenience), damages for harassment, special damages or exemplary damages.
A tenant can apply for an injunction and claim compensation either together or separately. Both choices of legal action involve filling out a form, which should be submitted to the court.
A solicitor can help with the forms needed for this, or a tenant can apply themselves.
How much compensation do you get for an illegal eviction?
If a tenant claims compensation (damages) following an illegal eviction for things like breach of contract, loss or harm, how much compensation they get depends on:
Behaviour of the landlord
Amount of time the tenant was left homeless
Impact the illegal eviction has had on the tenant
If the landlord acted violently.
Each compensation claim is assessed on a case by case basis depending on the impact the illegal eviction has on the tenant. The final amount of compensation to be awarded is decided by the court, however it is worth noting that the penalty for illegal eviction does include civil action with unlimited damages.
So there is no upper limit to how much compensation a tenant might be awarded following illegal eviction.
Tips for tenants facing illegal eviction
If you think you might be at risk of illegal eviction, it’s important to know your rights.
First of all, remember: only court appointed bailiffs can evict you, and your landlord usually will need to go to court and get a court order to make this happen.
A landlord should also give you the appropriate notice and should never force entry into your home or threaten you in order to get you to leave. This is harassment.
Below are some tips if you are facing illegal eviction, or feel you are at risk:
Keep a log. You should keep a record of any contact your landlord has with you and any behaviour which could be interpreted as violent or threatening. Be sure to keep details of dates, times, people present and other information which may be of importance.
Change the locks. Usually a tenant can’t change the locks on a rental home without the landlord’s permission, however if you feel sufficiently threatened by your landlord then you are within your rights to change the locks to stop your landlord from entering your home without the appropriate notice.
Tell your landlord that illegal eviction is a criminal offence. You can do this face to face, in a calm manner, if you feel safe doing so. Alternatively you can write to your landlord and tell them that their threat is illegal, why it is illegal, what consequences they might face, and the actions you have or will take to stop them.
Call the police. If your landlord tries to force entry to enforce an illegal eviction, threatens you or acts violently towards you in any way and you are in immediate danger, you should call 999 and request police assistance. If your landlord is harassing you or threatening illegal eviction, but you aren’t in immediate danger, you should call 101 or your local police station and report the behaviour.
Get legal help. Illegal eviction can be distressing, and despite the law being clear, the police don’t always handle illegal evictions in the right way. If you feel that you need further help to get justice in the face or wake of an unlawful eviction, you should get specialist help from an experienced solicitor.
Lodgers and illegal evictions
The rules around evictions and lodgers are different to private tenants as a landlord doesn’t have to go to court to carry out an eviction and can ‘peaceably evict’ a lodger (by changing the locks, for example) without notice if they’re at the end of a fixed term agreement.
Lodgers who are still in a fixed term agreement must be given notice to leave by the landlord. How long that notice period is depends on if it is written into the agreement between landlord and lodger. If it’s not, the landlord has to give ‘reasonable’ notice, which can vary in length.
That being said, it is still illegal for a landlord to use or threaten violence to evict a lodger, regardless of their written agreement or contract.
Get legal help for unlawful and illegal eviction
Landlords have an obligation to follow the legal process for eviction no matter what. If they don’t, tenants have the right to claim damages against them, along with other forms of legal action.
If you are facing illegal eviction, or you have been illegally evicted, you don’t have to go through it alone. For expert legal advice at affordable prices, tell us about your case using our simple online form for a fixed-fee quote and access to a specialist landlord and tenant solicitor who can assist with your case.