Illegal eviction and the police

Naughton v Whittle and Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police. Manchester County Court 30/11/2009 (Legal Action July 2010)

The tendency of the police to be utterly useless in cases of unlawful eviction has been a recurrent motif on Nearly Legal. They either do nothing, saying that it is a civil matter, or on occasion remove keys from the tenant. In this case, reported in July’s Legal Action Housing Updates, for which many thanks, the police did take further steps. Unfortunately, they took steps in entirely the wrong direction and ended up paying for it.

Mr Naughton had been occupying a property for some 15 months. In March 2006, Ms Whittle, apparently the owner, orally told him to leave in about 3 weeks time. Two weeks later, Ms Whittle’s brother told Mr N he would be put out of the property if he refused to leave. On the date he had been told to leave, Ms Whittle accosted Mr N’s girlfriend and grabbed the keys to the property, injuring the girlfriend’s hand. Mr N returned home to find the locks being changed.

The police were called and, helpfully, threatened Mr N with arrest for breach of the peace. The police then physically removed Mr N from the property and he was locked out. He did get to return twice on later dates to collect belongings.

Mr N brought claims against Ms W and the Chief Constable, the latter for trespass to person.

The Chief Constable settled for £2,500. Ms W defended on the basis that it wasn’t a tenancy, there being no rent paid, or that occupation had been temporary pending negotiations for a substantive tenancy agreement. The Court found there was a tenancy and a weekly rent.

Damages
£7,700 – being £275 per day for the 28 days deprived of occupation before finding new accommodation
£1,500 aggravated damages.
No set off of the settlement by the police against damages awarded against Ms W – ‘each tortfeasor must pay appropriate damages for the wrong done’.

To any police officers who may happen to read this, it is not difficult. Unlawful eviction is an indictable criminal offence – Protection from Eviction Act 1977 s.1.

If someone has belongings in a property and has a key for the property, it is an odds on bet that they have a right to reside there and fall under the Protection from Eviction Act (not certain, granted, but more likely than not). So, if the landlord isn’t armed with the required court orders, it is not a good idea to a) assist the landlord, b) take the keys from the occupant, c) physically remove the occupant from the property or d) arrest the occupant because they won’t leave.

In fact, if the occupant has a tenancy agreement and the landlord doesn’t have court orders, you may want to consider actually arresting the landlord…

About Giles Peaker

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, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Housing law - All, Unlawful eviction and harassment and tagged , , , .

25 Comments

  1. Hooray! More of this please – I know it must scary for the tenant, but the more money the police lose, the more seriously they will treat their own misbehaviour.

  2. I’m a landlord and had the opposite experience with the police. My tenant had left at (well, soon after) the end of his 6 month tenancy but had left furniture behind. I needed to remove it in order to get another tenant. I had also changed the locks.

    The police were called by a neighbouring busybody and loudly insisted that I could not remove the property. They threatened to arrest me under the Theft Act and then insisted that I pass the furniture over to the busybody although he showed no evidence of ex-tenant giving authority.

    I complained to South Wales Police (who are generally unfit for purpose) that they were badly training their officers with ignorance and claimed damages. So far not resolved.

    • Peter, I’ve had an annoying week and my tolerance threshold is low, so you are going to get the result of that.

      I’ve seen you tell this story somewhere else – possibly the landlordzone forums or similar. You were put right on what you had done wrong in short order by some of the more knowledgeable people on that forum, as I recall. Assuming I’m remembering correctly, you didn’t serve notice or bring possession proceedings. You just entered the property and changed the locks on the assumption that the tenant had left, without the tenant having told you they had gone. You then wanted to dispose of the tenant’s property.

      The police absolutely should not have insisted that the property was passed to the neighbour without express authority, but, and let us be entirely clear here, you had no right to dispose of the tenant’s belongings and, if I recall correctly, this was an unlawful eviction. Tessa Shepperson has some helpful guides for landlords on their basic legal responsibilities. Try this one on left belongings

  3. We have recently been evicted by our landlady unlawfully and with police assistance ..the police stating the landlord having permission from the local council ,to which our local council flatly deny . The police arrived at the property and physically removed myself half dressed and no shoes on and my partner from the property and then blocked access to the property and watched our landlady and a troop of her friends throw our belongings and my 2 childrens belongings onto the street . We rented privatly and had a 6mnth short assured tenancy . the night before our tenancy expired our landlady let herself in the property and announced she was moving back into the property and we had to get out for the next two weeks living there was a complete nightmare she was informed several times by different police officers to leave she had left electrical appliances on in a locked room and this waa a crime scene as they were so hot to the point of combustion the police had to kick the door down and then board it up taking the appliances away as they were dangerous she was told to contact police before entering she didnt and then assualted a friend of mine in the property before fleeing again ..we were packing our belongs to leave and the police fully aware of this still 9 days later assisted with the eviction she has kept some of our belongings and most damaging my childrens belongings . Our other items left to get soaking wet and damaged and us out with no where to go …thank goodness for friends and horrified neighbours watching on helping us ..we lost our family pet of 12 years our cat devastaing the children and myself of course ..i am liasing with our council at this time to see how and why this has happened when they are stating strictly they told police to not get involved in the assistance ..however i am aware a breach of peace may have occured if no one had escorted us out the property but not on our conduct …she the landlady has been the only party to behave unlawfully and with adverse behaviour .. hoping we are able to now try and get some assistance

  4. Hi giles thank you for your advice and pages for reference . I wrote today just before our meeting with a housing officer at our council . They are prosecuting her and have been attempting to contact her , as yet to no avail . They have informed me they will be liasing with the police as over a ten day period we had various officers visit the property and on all acounts record why they were called and for what reason however on each occassion a the police seemed not to know previous events taking place even though a crime scene clearly marked at the property was visible due to a door being boarded up and a logged crime report visible to the public outside attached to the inner window of the room stating she must ring them before entering and that they were actively seeking her whereabouts , each pair of officers attending seemed not to know any previous happenings ..this concerns me and did do at the time as i could not totally comprehend why on one occasion after the room was boarded up they allowed her to change the locks whilst they were present stating they were fed up with visiting the property over this situation and stated it was her property and she could do as she liked . Would you be so kind as to offer some advice on how i can get these series of incidents investigated and to how i can persue this . To be fair to our council they have stated that we should proceed with prosecuting her regarding our deposit as it was not tenured in a bond . But the police matter i would not know where to start . We live in a town called Bideford in Devon our local council is Torridge District Council they have instructed their solicitor to prosecute her for the ilegal eviction however as stated informed us to persue the deposit and police assistance . After visiting several solicitors today in our area they seem not to have a litigation solicitor at there practise ..would you think this possible ? I shall follow up your previous advice offered and would be gratefull of any further advice offered can i thank you so very very much for your input already many many thanks Janice

  5. Thanks for this post. I am currently sitting in my room and my LL has taken my keys and threatens me with police. Both the legal advice and council tenancy officer have told me it is my right to stay here. He has been harassing me, entering my room and trying to annoy me as much so I leave.
    I don’t know how much it would cost to take him to court as I don’t have a job because I am moving in two weeks anyway.

    • Council tenancy officer should contact him to tell him to stop. Also, find a solicitor. Legal aid could be available as this is harassment and attempted unlawful eviction. Try the link in the footer at the bottom of the page.

  6. What do you do if it was the council who has taken all your stuff, ie clothes, furniture, new carpets just laid in the hall and living room and everything I had collected for 10 years plus of mine and my 2 sons memories and also the only thing I had left of my deceased mum. The job centre made me take a job 2 hrs away from home therefore I had left for work before 7 am andwwasn’t getting home until 9/10 pm, with not even having enough time to do my insulin and eat, I would have to choose which one to do, also meant I had no time to call the housing and wait in 15/20 queues for the call to be answered when in the 5 minute break allowed. I have been left with nothing and lost the job as I couldn’t handle the stress. I have lost all my nice clothes and shoes, I look terrible and doubt anyone will employ me again based on the fact that I look so scruffy. I never confronted the council face to face as I know that it probably wouldn’t have ended well as all I want to do when I think about this situation is smash the place to pieces and destroy my so called housing officer psychically.

    • If you were the secure tenant, there here should have been possession proceedings, then notice of the date of eviction.

      You should contact the council as they should have retained your belongings in safe keeping.

  7. Hello, I work in an enforcement team and am increasingly frustrated by the actions or inactions as the case may be of most police officers, I am desperate for more senior managers to take this issue up with them and wondered if anybody out there has any procedures/protocols between LA’s and Police which will help

  8. I am a landlady who had given my tenant 2 weeks notice to leave via Section 8. One Three days before the notice expired I had sent her a text, explaining that if I do not hear from her by midnight of the expiry date I will take it that she has left. She did not reply so I took it that she had gone. Two weeks after expiry of the notice, I went to the property and knocked on the door several times…very hard. There was no answer. I had a locksmith to drill the front door lock and changed it. Her 18 year old daughter then emerged and showered me with expletives. She called the Police, other members of her mother’s family and friends. They along with other residents of the street came to the property and swore at me repeatedly. They said that I should not be there. The 18-year old daughter smoked inside, threw the ashes on the floor and also on me. When I told her that she should not be smoking inside, as stated in the contract she told me that she can do whatever she wants in the house. The Police told her that she can and the Police overrides my contract.
    Two police officers arrived and changed the lock. One of the officers pushed me and said that he was making sure that I am not getting in. They told me to leave otherwise I would be moved physically.
    I was not even allowed to stand on the pavement. I had later asked to view the property while I was there, as the tenant does not allow me to do this. I have not seen inside since September 2017. My furnished house is completely wrecked by these people who owes me over £4000 in rent. She said that she is not paying and she is also refusing to leave although I have found suitable properties for her at a lower cost. She now has her 22-year old daughter living at the property and claiming so the Housing Benefit paid to me on her behalf is reduced even further.
    I will have to apply to the court to remove her.
    Did the police officer respond appropriately in changing back the lock?

    • Oh dear Marilyn. What a mess you have created. You cannot simply change the locks after the expiry of a section 8 notice. You have no right to possession of the property until you have a possession order and a warrant. You were attempting an illegal eviction. Use of force to gain access to a property when there is someone in it is also a criminal offence.

      You had no right to access the property. The police actually acted entirely correctly.

      Of course the tenant should not breach their contract, and of course they should pay the rent. If they don’t, you can evict them, through a notice and possession order. But you might have messed that up too, as any claim based on rent arrears may now be faced with a counterclaim for damages for harassment.

      If you had actually unlawfully evicted the tenant, you could have faced a substantial civil claim for damages, a prosecution by the council and potentially a banning order preventing you from being a landlord in the future.

      If you don’t know what you are doing (and you clearly don’t), you really shouldn’t be a landlord. I’d suggest joining one of the landlord organisations – the RLA, the NLA – and learning about your rights and obligations as a landlord, fast.

  9. Thanks for your reply. However, I was really not attemptin g to evict the tenant. I went there with the belief that the tenant had left, as I did make it clear that if I did not hear from her by the expiry date I would take it that she has left…and I did not hear from her.
    Does the rule not say that “IF the tenant does not leave by the specified date then an application should be made to the court”? Can you tell me, “How will I know if the tenant has left”? I also knocked before entry. Or are you saying that I should still apply to court if the tenant has left?
    And had I been attempting g to evict the tenant I would not have gone there on my own. I am actually a very calm, demure, peaceful and compassionate person.
    I also find these words very condemning, “You clearly do not know what you’re doing so you shouldn’t be a landlord”. It would have been more constructive to advise me to educate myself on landlord matters….without the unnecessary crushing remarks.

    • Marilyn

      Regardless of what you think you were doing, you were attempting an unlawful eviction in law. You cannot rely on ‘abandonment’at all, particularly not where all you have done is text the tenant and relied on there being no response.

      Unless the tenant has expressly notified you themselves that they have left and returned the keys, yes, yes you do have to get a court order. Because the tenancy has not been ended.

      My words were condemning. They were also accurate. As you have just shown again, you don’t know what you are doing. You have created a potential mess for yourself and arguably committed two criminal offences. I did advise you to get educated, rapidly. But this should have been something you did at the start, not after the event. I’m afraid that amateur landlords don’t attract much sympathy. It was your job to know what you were doing.

  10. Thanks again.
    I am not a landlord by profession…but accidentally. And as the saying goes, “better late than never”, as I had later joined the RLA.
    As for me being a criminal…..smh.
    The tenant’s daughter had brought 15 people from the street with other family members to attack me!!! Everyone abused me verbally….but I did not retaliate. Her 24-year old daughter also kicked me, grabbed my phone from my hand, picked up a lump of dirt from the floor and rubbed on my lips without me provoking her. Clear intimidation and harassment from their side. Again I did not even resist. I guess she was also right to do so.
    I also had no keys because the tenant had changed the locks previously and refused to give me a copy. I guess she is also at liberty to do so. The reason why it is taking me so long to get fid of these people is because of the conflicting advices and information given to me by the “professionals”.
    I was actually told by a professional body that when the time is up that I must check by knocking on the door and open the door if there is no answer…to see if the tenant is still present.

    • Marilyn

      The police stopped you as you were in the course of committing two criminal offences. You may still face a civil claim or counterclaim for damages for harassment.

      I am not excusing the tenant’s behaviour or that of her family and friends. If it was as you suggest, then they might also have committed offences. And, as I said, if they breach their obligations under the tenancy agreement, you can take steps to evict them (notice, possession proceedings, warrant), though you have apparently given them a degree of ammunition for a defence and counterclaim (which is why you should not have done this!)

      The tenant should not have changed the lock without notifying you. If the original lock was replaced at the end of the tenancy, without any damage, though, you’d have no case. And no, you do not have a right to have a key to the property. Once you have let it out, it is the tenant’s property.

      Which professional body told you that? I am very keen to know the answer because it is wrong and appalling advice.

  11. This judgment isn’t on bailii. Where can I read the full approved judgment or can anyone email it to me?

  12. Thank you. have you any idea which court. My aim is to get a transcript of the judgment. This was an important case and an approved judgment will be of importance for the future.

    • There was no judgment on the claim against the police. It was settled. The unlawful eviction claim against the landlord was straightforward. I’m afraid an approved judgment will be of no value.

  13. I just saw, it was Manchester County Court in 2009. It’s over 6 years so the recordings would have been destroyed, but I will ask them nevertheless.

  14. My situation is a bit special I guess. I am a live-in HMO landlord. One of the tenants was found possessing and using drugs in my kitchen. He also failed to pay 3 month rent so far. The other tenants complained about his drinking problem and anti-social behavior as well. I am looking to evict him, the problem is at the beginning of the tenancy, I prepared the wrong template of the tenancy agreement. We signed on a standard AST agreement, rather than Lodger License. would you know by any chance, in my situation, if I could still evict the tenant as a lodger?

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