Landlords Beware! | Illegal Repossession
The recent Court of Appeal Judgment in the case of Susan Wu v. Chelmsford City Council highlights the risks taken by landlords who seek to retake possession of their property without observing the stringent legal procedures.
Suki Randhawa explains the circumstances leading to this Court of Appeal Judgment.
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A landlady entered her property, utilising her own set of keys, together with a builder, with a view to resolving a water leak. At the same time, the builders were instructed to change the locks on the main front doors and, as part of the operation, the water supply was disconnected.
Having been advised by the Police that the issue was a civil matter in which they were unable to become involved, the tenant contacted Chelmsford City Council which informed the landlady that she was legally obliged to re-house her tenant as her actions rendered the property uninhabitable.
As the result of the landlady failing to provide a new set of house keys until many hours later she was advised that her actions may amount to illegal eviction, regardless of the fact that one of the tenants had always remained at the property and neither of them had been forcibly or physically evicted from the property.
Charges were later brought against the landlady for offences contrary to Section 1(2) and Section 1(3A) of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
The Relevant Law
The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 provides:
‘Unlawful eviction and harassment of occupier.
(1) In this section “residential occupier”, in relation to any premises, means a person occupying the premises as a residence, whether under a contract or by virtue of any enactment or rule of law giving him the right to remain in occupation or restricting the right of any other person to recover possession of the premises.
(2) If any person unlawfully deprives the residential occupier of any premises of his occupation of the premises or any part thereof, or attempts to do so, he shall be guilty of an offence unless he proves that he believed, and had reasonable cause to believe, that the residential occupier had ceased to reside in the premises.
(3) If any person with intent to cause the residential occupier of any premises –
(a) to give up the occupation of the premises or any part thereof; or
(b) to refrain from exercising any right or pursuing any remedy in respect of the premises or part thereof;
does acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household, or persistently withdraws or withholds services reasonably required for the occupation of the premises as a residence, he shall be guilty of an offence.’
‘Subject to subsection (3B) below, the landlord of a residential occupier or an agent of the landlord shall be guilty of an offence if –
(a) he does acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household, or
(b) he persistently withdraws or withholds services reasonably required for the occupation of the premises in question as a residence,
and (in either case) he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, that that conduct is likely to cause the residential occupier to give up the occupation of the whole or part of the premises or to refrain from exercising any right or pursuing any remedy in respect of the whole or part of the premises.’
‘A person shall not be guilty of an offence under subsection (3A) above if he proves that he had reasonable grounds for doing the acts or withdrawing or withholding the services in question.’
Trial and Sentencing
At Trial, it was the landlady’s case that whilst she had deprived the tenants of occupation of the property by not promptly providing a new set of keys, she had simply forgotten to produce the keys and had not intended such deprivation to be permanent and the disconnection of the water services was necessary to carry out repair works.
It was for the Jury to decide whether there was an intention to deprive permanently and it was agreed that the two questions for the Jury on each count were:
‘Are we sure that when she arranged those acts, the defendant knew or had reasonable cause to believe that that conduct was likely to cause the tenant to give up the occupation of the premises?’ and if so,
‘Is it more likely than not that the defendant had reasonable grounds for doing those acts?’.
The Jury convicted the landlady on each count.
Upon the landlady’s appeal, the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction as being safe and dismissed her Appeal.
At the Sentencing Hearing, the landlady was sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court in respect of each count to a twelve months Community Order and ordered to pay costs of £14,000 and £1,000 compensation.
How Can We Be of Assistance?
This featured case clearly highlights the importance for all landlords to be aware of and observe the Regulatory Powers available to local councils and the extent to which they are rigorously enforced.
The Team at Kangs Solicitors regularly advises and assists clients facing serious accusations of breaching Regulations covering all types of property lettings.
It is critically important that landlords and letting agents are aware of and comply with the many Regulations controlling their obligations to tenants.
Who Can I Contact for Advice & Help?
Please do not hesitate to contact the Team at Kangs Solicitors through any of the following who will be pleased to speak to you: