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 a financial remedy. We may also recommend that it reviews the way it deals with similar cases.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr B lived in a house shared with others, including the landlord’s son (Mr C). Mr C sent Mr B an email asking him to leave. At first the council concluded Mr B was an assured shorthold tenant. On that basis it wrote to Mr B’s landlord (Mr D) advising he could not be evicted without proper notice and a court order. Mr D challenged the council’s view claiming Mr B did not have a tenancy because Mr C also lived at the property. The council said it would look into this matter. Mr D then changed to locks to Mr B’s accommodation. The council eventually decided Mr B was an ‘excluded occupier’ under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and could be evicted without a court order, and therefore Mr D had not committed an offence. But we found the council had misinterpreted the law and, as a result, had not properly considered using its discretionary powers to prosecute for illegal eviction. As a remedy we asked the council to apologise to Mr B and pay him £350.
After accepting Miss X’s homelessness application the council housed her in temporary accommodation in a flat it leased from a private owner. Later the council decided to end its homelessness duty in Miss X’s case, but it took no action to evict her. After a change of owner, new managing agents queried Miss X’s right to be in the flat and threatened to change the locks. Miss X reported this to the council but it did not contact the agents. Soon afterwards the agents took possession of the flat while Miss X was out and removed all her belongings. But the council did not help Miss X with further accommodation as it had already ended its homelessness duty. We could not say Miss X was evicted illegally as that is a matter for the courts to decide. But we found fault with the council for not intervening when Miss X told it about the threat from the agent, and not ensuring she could return to the flat while it went through a legal eviction process. As a result we recommended the council to provide Miss X with accommodation for four months to give her time to find alternative housing, pay her £2,000 for her distress, and review its working practices.

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.

November 2019