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Unlawful eviction and harassment
22/07/2009

HB means no gas or electricity

In the July edition of Legal Action’s housing reports is the otherwise unreported Salah v Munro Willesden County Court April 2009. This was a harassment and unlawful eviction case. Ms Salah began an assured shorthold tenancy of a room on 23 March 2008 for a 6 month fixed term. Ms S applied for HB which was granted but did not cover the full rent, even after appeal. The landlord, Mr Munro had a ‘no HB’ policy, which he decided to enforce in a forthright and utterly unlawful manner. First he told Ms S to leave. Then, in May 08 his brother and girlfriend went to the property and demanded that she leave and return the key. Ms S refused, then went out, taking her key. On her return she found the locks changed and some of her belongings in bags in the street. Some items were missing. She spent a night in hospital after an asthma attack then sofa surfed until being re-admitted 10 days later following a court order.

Mr M continued to harass Ms S — missing furniture was not replaced and he accused her of being a prostitute. After the 6 month term, Mr M disabled the gas and electricity supply to the room, so Ms S had to stay at a friend’s home for a month. The electric was reconnected only once the landlord was notified that Ms S had been granted funding for a committal application. Ms S only stayed intermittently at the property after that. In January 09 Mr M saw Ms S at the property. He called the police who, helpfully, confiscated her keys.

At trial the court awarded:
Unlawful eviction — general damages of £8600. The usual range was £100 to £300 per night. Here £200 was appropriate, for 43 nights.
Aggravated damages — £2000
Exemplary damages — £2000
Special damages (in the absence of receipts) — £1000
Arrears of rent of £750 deducted from the damages — not including the excluded period and with rent assessed at 50% for the period without gas.

No separate award on the harassment, apparently. Anyone from Warnapala & Co, or Mr Bernard Lo, with more information?

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

18 Comments

  1. Rentergirl

    The police again, and their lack of knowledge of housing/consumer/property law, coupled with a complusion to intervene and protect the rights of landlords even when they are illegally harrassing tenants. This is becoming increasingly common.

    Reply
    • Francis Davey

      I agree – I’ve seen it too much too. Perhaps a fixed administrative fine (say £1,000) to be paid by any police officer who fails to arrest a landlord for unlawful eviction without a reasonable cause (and ignorance of the law is not that)? Like the 3x penalty for landlords who don’t sort out deposits.

      It might put law enforcement further up the police’s agenda and make them concentrate on that rather than arresting people who photograph Chatham High Street or searching people coming out of the British Library to sort their equality stats. out.

      Reply
      • NL

        Can anyone recall an unlawful eviction case report in which the police, once they had arrived, obtained re-entry for the tenant and arrested the landlord for committing a criminal offence? Or even one of the two?

        I can’t remember any, not that I’ve done a search, but there surely must be at least one where the police have actually recognised that there is such a thing as a criminal offence of unlawful eviction.

        Reply
        • J

          Or, when suing the landlord, join the police as second defendants!

        • Francis Davey

          Not only haven’t I found such a case but there was a relatively recent criminal appeal case which went like this: landlord evicts tenant unlawfully *and* takes tenant’s stuff. Police get involved and, wonder of wonders, arrest the landlord for *theft*.

          In interview a police officer (iirc with some seniority) explains to the landlord that he is going to be charged with theft, but obviously the unlawful eviction was a “civil matter” so that wouldn’t be charged.

          This is more astonishing as, one might hope, the officer might have had a glance through “crime for dummies” or some such.

          I think the fact that it is councils rather than the CPS that usually prosecute is the core of the problem.

          Oh, that particular case the landlord was later prosecuted by the council for unlawful eviction and tried, in defence, to argue that he shouldn’t be because of the statement made by the police officer to him on an earlier occasion.

          The (I think) divisional court told him to get on his bike with that argument. Nice try.

        • Housingbod

          I had a similar case. Police turned up when the tenant had got home to find out that the lanldord and son had changed locks and had removed tenants property. The police threatened to arrest the landlord if he did not restore the tenant’s property to her and allow her reentry and chage the locks back again. Not bad eh? but for the fact the tenant had a LA tenancy relations officer with her at the time to exalin to the police the illegality of what was happening – ok not so good!

      • Marcin Tustin

        Or, more realistically as a proposal, mandatory disciplinary action against any police officer who arrests a tenant or otherwise assists in the unlawful eviction. To be honest, that should be how it is done now.

        Reply
        • Francis Davey

          Yes, last case I dealt with tenant was threatened with arrest if he didn’t leave (tenant had foolishly called the police thinking they might be some help) in a particularly nasty unlawful eviction case.

  2. dave

    This is an old problem, as readers of some of the old research reports by Shelter and the former Campaign for Bedsit Rights will know. If you go back to the DoE’s Francis review in 1971, it was said there that the reason why the police should not be given express powers to prosecute for unlawful eviction and harassment was because the law was too complex for the average cop on the beat. Poor loves, it seems that it’s so complex that at least some willingly assist landlords in their attempts to beat due process/property rights. There must be some who actually assist residential occupiers, though, and maybe that’s why we don’t hear about them.

    Reply
  3. Jim Paton

    I was involved in a case where the police did actually get re-entry for the tenant, though the only sanction for the landlord was a telling off. It was a tripartite dispute to boot, the landlord having planned the illegal eviction and found a new tenant to be installed immediately. Whether this innocent third party ever recovered the money he’d paid the landlord is unknown.

    So, a more complex situation than usual as the putative tenant who’d been in occupation for about 45 minutes, was insisting on his rights too. Well done the police for sorting it out? Not exactly. This was about 25 years ago and the police presence involved was one very young PC who was prepared to have the law (about which he was hazy, to say the least) explained to him. Not once, fortunately, did he seek “back up”, or the outcome might have been different.

    That wouldn’t happen nowadays. Police would either not attend at all or turn up mob handed. Has anyone tried explaining the law in this or any other area to modern police officers? Tends to get you arrested or threatened with “the Terrorism Act”.

    The propensity of the police to make it up as they go along -and often get it wrong- in this area certainly seems to be even greater than it used to be. I hope every instance of it results in at least a police complaint, if not J’s idea which would be salutory. The problem is that any lessons learned by the police as a result seem to wear off very quickly.

    Reply
  4. Ben

    I used to be the TRO for the London Borough of Lewisham where we had a hell of a problem with the police evicting sub tenants of properties, usually council and we tackled the problem by providing a 2 hour training slot for probationers on their week long induction course.Setting this up was simply a matter of contacting the training officer for the area and offering them a slot, which they were more than happy to take up.

    I didnt do a major number on the complexities of the law, just emphasised that landlord tenant disputes are not just civil offences

    We also gave them a small laminated card with our contact details to carry with them. Results were, far more referrals from them, including automatic copies of their IRB entries sent over, the odd arrest under Sect 25 of PACE and even, on 2 occasions officers using Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act to break tenants back in.

    We ran this succefully for about 6 years

    Reply
    • NL

      Ben, that sounds like a very useful programme indeed. Is it still running do you know?

      And why aren’t more Councils’ Tenancy Relations running this sort of thing?

      Reply
      • ben

        No it isnt. I’m not sure that that sort of pro-active will exists at the moment to be honest as the traditional TRO role gets subsumed into an add on for homelessness prevention and all the necessary gatekeeping that this involves.

        The Association of Tenancy Relations Officers does do training but seems to be bit of a lost cause (Twas ever thus)Disappearing up it’s own well meaning fundament eons ago.

        My experience in delivering the training was that there was actually a thirst for the knowledge amongst most of the officers I worked with and contrary to some opinions posted here I think it would be ludicrous to penalise the cops for not picking up on laws that confuse even us housing pros.

        All the cops I ever worked with were keen for anything that would help resolve a doorstep dispute at 1am that didnt involve them having to persuade the custody sergeant to justify the PACE clock for the cells, for a case that they were never charged with prosecuting anyway.

        My take on this? Dont penalise the cops, educate ’em. They are actually quite friendly and helpful when you offer to take work off their hands, and I dont mean that cynically. I saw hundreds of allegations of harassment and illegal eviction during the course of a year but we were lucky if we prosecuted 2 successfully for want of hard criminal standard evidence, whereas most cases kick off when TROs or their successors are in bed and the only witnesses are the Police. They just want to know what to do and they dont tell them that stuff at Hendon

        Reply
  5. Tessa Shepperson

    Maybe you or someone should do a short written guide for the police (online or printed), to assist them.

    Reply
    • Ben

      I cant see it working Tessa, they would need the insentive to obtain or read it, and they have enough to do. It worked for us because
      a) it helped the training sergeant fill their week long schedule of half a day here half a day there etc and
      b) by simply turning up they got the information that we would prosecute and all they had to do was take names and contact details and refer to us.

      That way instead of getting sucked into the argument of who said what to who they could quieten things down by telling the landlord it’s a criminal offence and they would refer to us and then they could leave – Job done!

      Everyone likes a simple solution. I dont see any reason why any TRO service or advice unit couldnt still do this. It builds a really good working relationship. Sometimes the officers would actually ring for advice whilst a dispute was in progress. Hence my point, help them out dont penalise them

      Reply
  6. Cait

    The one page summary of the law can be handy for clients as it gives them something to show the police.

    I do think the police often act out of ignorance in these situations –
    Something that sets out the relevant bit of the Protection from Eviction Act, and the relevant bit from the Criminal Law act can give them enough of a push to stop the landlord illegally eviction.

    Cait

    Reply
  7. Bernard Lo

    I was counsel in the case for the tenant. I am not sure why HHJ Copley did not expressly make an award for the harassment per se as well the period of exclusion. He may have considered that was covered by the Agg and Exemps. As there were serious doubts as to the landlord’s ability to satisfy any judgement it was not worth considering an appeal.
    On the issue of police involvement it was submitted by the landlord that tenant must be lying because of course the police would not get involved by confiscating the tenant’s keys.

    Reply
    • NL

      Many thanks, Bernard. That is helpful.

      Reply

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