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.
£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…