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.
*Please note: The government extended the required notice period for tenants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, so most tenants have been entitled to three months’ notice since 26 March 2020 and six months’ notice since 29 August 2020. You should contact an advice agency or the council for further advice if you are unsure whether the notice from your landlord is valid.
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.
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
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.