Harassment and Unlawful Evictions of Tenants during COVID-19 Pandemic

17 Apr 2020 | Arjun Jethwa

At these hugely challenging times, I thought it would be helpful to provide some insight for tenants facing harassment and unlawful evictions during this time. I am currently taking calls from tenants who have tenancy agreements or contractual licences and here are my answers to some of the questions we are responding to.

What is the general position with evicting a tenant?

Unless a tenancy or licence is within s.3A of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, Landlords must follow “due process” in order to re-enter a property.

The meaning of “due process” is serving a notice, issuing a claim for possession, obtaining an order for possession and enforcing that order with court bailiffs.

What is the general position of harassing a tenant?

There is normally a clause in the tenancy agreement preventing the landlord from interfering with the quiet enjoyment of a tenant’s use of the property. If there isn’t, the law provides protection from Harassment and Unlawful eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

Landlords are not allowed to engage in behaviour or an activity, or encourage others to do so which could force a tenant to leave a property or interfere with their quiet enjoyment of the property.

What if the tenant doesn’t have a written agreement?

The case of Street v Mountford [1985] WLR 877 provides that even if there is nothing in writing or the agreement is not labelled as Tenancy Agreement you just need to establish the elements of a tenancy agreement which are:

  1. Parties – i.e. landlord and tenant
  2. Property – physical land
  3. Term – could be monthly, but often 6 or 12 months
  4. Rent – often payment of money
  5. Exclusive possession – a tenant can “keep out strangers and keep out the landlord unless the landlord is exercising limited rights reserved to him by the tenancy agreement to enter and view and repair…”

Therefore the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 would apply.

An individual could use Shelter’s Tenancy Checker to see if you would be afforded the above protection.

What are the concerns?

In light of the current pandemic that is ensuing the Government has made urgent changes to the law. The Government has introduced practice direction 51Z. All proceedings for possession brought under CPR Part 55 and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession by a warrant or writ of possession are stayed for a period of 90 days from 27 March 2020.

Landlords must follow “due process” combined with the current stay in any possession proceedings means the eviction process will be longer than usual.

Certain Landlords may wish to evict a tenant without following due process. Alternatively the landlord may harass the tenant in order to encourage the tenant to leave the property.

What can a tenant do during this time?

If the tenant finds that s/he has been unexpectedly and unlawfully evicted from the property during this time, the tenant could:

  • Report this to the police, to see if they can assist with getting back into the property, they could refer to the Government Guidance here which shows how landlords and tenants should be behaving at this time;
  • This type of work is covered by legal aid subject to eligibility. Contact a Solicitor to help get an injunction allowing the tenant back into the property. The County Courts are prioritising a host of cases and injunction claims are one of them. Whilst there are many offices closed to the public at the moment, many law firms are still operating and are able to assist remotely by way of skype, zoom and over the phone. It is advisable for the tenant to seek advice.
  • Contact the local authority, they sometimes provide assistance for people unlawfully evicted or could help with a place to stay.

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