Harassment or illegal eviction by your private landlord

This fact sheet is aimed at people living in private rented accomodation who are being harassed or thereatened with eviction by their landlord, and those who have already been evicted illegally, and who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

My landlord is trying to evict me. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. But first you should contact your council. The council can take action against private landlords who harass or illegally evict their tenants. We can consider your complaint if you feel the council has not dealt with the matter properly.

What is harassment?

The law says it is harassment if a landlord or his agent does anything to interfere with the peace or comfort of a tenant, or acts with the intention of making them leave. Harassment can come in many forms, for example:

  • threatening to evict someone without going through the correct legal procedure
  • threatening violence
  • disconnecting the electricity, gas or water supply
  • entering the home without permission.

What is illegal eviction?

Your legal rights about eviction will depend on the kind of agreement you have with your landlord. But usually the landlord must first give you proper notice to leave. Most private tenants are entitled to at least two months’ notice. Even when a notice has run out, the landlord will usually need to get a court order before having a legal right to evict you. If your landlord forces you out or changes the locks before that stage, this could be an illegal eviction.

What should the council do?

If you are being harassed and believe your landlord may want to evict you illegally, or if you have already been evicted, you can ask the council for help. The council should advise you about your housing rights and options. Some councils also have tenancy relations officers who deal specifically with harassment and illegal eviction cases.

The council has powers under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 to investigate complaints of harassment and illegal eviction, and to prosecute a landlord where he or she commits an offence. But the council has no power to make a landlord reinstate an illegally evicted tenant or to help with a claim for damages against a landlord. So you may also need to seek advice from a solicitor or law centre about pursuing those matters.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first if you are not satisfied with the way it has dealt with your case. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will normally have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We will consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with you and whether this has caused you a problem. Some of the issues we can look at are if the council:

  • did not consider your concerns properly
  • failed to advise you about your rights
  • failed to investigate your allegations properly
  • did not take appropriate action, or
  • took too long to deal with your case.

But we cannot investigate the way the council deals with legal proceedings because the law does not allow the Ombudsman to do this.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

If we find that the council did not deal with your case properly we will consider whether it should do something to put matters right. We cannot force the council to prosecute your landlord but we may ask it to take other action, for example:

  • by taking urgent steps to investigate the situation and address the problem, or 
  • by giving you further advice or support with housing.

Sometimes we ask the council to pay compensation. We may also recommend that it reviews the way it deals with similar cases.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr and Mrs Y were tenants of a private landlord. But they fell into arrears after Mr Y lost his job. The landlord kept demanding the rent. Mr and Mrs Y alleged that he then entered their flat, assaulted Mr Y and stole from them. They reported this to the police and the council. But the council took no effective action for three months. Meantime the landlord had started possession proceedings. But without waiting for a court order he changed the locks and evicted Mr and Mrs Y illegally. It was only after contact by Mr and Mrs Y's solicitor that the council interviewed the landlord and decided to consider a prosecution. We could not say the harassment would have been prevented if the council had investigated more effectively. We could not comment either on the way the council dealt with the legal proceedings because this matter was outside our jurisdiction. But we found that Mr and Mrs Y suffered an injustice because the council's inaction over several months caused them great uncertainty at a time when they felt vulnerable to further harassment. As a result we recommended the council to pay them a financial remedy and review its working practices.
Ms S complained that the council had not taken action when she was threatened with eviction by the landlord of the hostel where she was living. She felt her landlord’s actions were unreasonable and amounted to harassment. But when we looked into the matter we found the council had carried out an appropriate investigation and had seen no evidence of harassment. The council had reasonably concluded it had no grounds to intervene. This was because the landlord was following the correct legal processes and was justified in seeking to evict Ms S because of her antisocial behaviour.

Other sources of information

If you are in a crisis and you need immediate practical help or advice on your legal rights you can contact Shelter who run a free national telephone advice line (0808 800 4444) and have a network of housing aid centres across England – you can find out more at england.shelter.org.uk

Advice from the CAB is free and your nearest CAB will be listed in the telephone directory or can be found online at: www.adviceguide.org.uk.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

April 2014