Illegal eviction

An illegal eviction takes place if your landlord makes you leave your home without following the proper legal process. It is a criminal offence.

Illegal eviction is an offence

Certain actions by a landlord nearly always count as illegal eviction - a serious criminal offence:

  • changing the locks while you are out
  • threatening you or forcing you to leave
  • physically throwing you out
  • stopping you from getting into certain parts of your home.

Your landlord can legally evict you only by following the correct procedure, which varies depending on the type of agreement you have.

Violence towards tenants is an offence

If your landlord is violent towards you or anyone in your household, this is a criminal offence and you should contact the police. If you feel unsafe in your home because of violence or threats of violence from your landlord, your local council may have a duty to rehouse you. If you are in this situation, get advice.

Illegal eviction after hours

Many illegal evictions take place after office hours so it can be difficult to get help. Call the police and the person at your local council who deals with harassment and illegal eviction (sometimes called a tenancy relations officer). The council may have an emergency phone number. If you have problems getting help after normal office hours, you may be able to call Shelter's free national helpline on 0808 800 4444.

What is the proper legal process for eviction?

The proper procedure for evicting you depends on the type of agreement you have with your landlord, and the reasons why the landlord wants you to leave. In most cases, this will usually involve giving you notice and getting a court order. But if you live with your landlord or a member of your landlord's family, the rules may be different.

The only person who is legally allowed to physically remove you from your home is a court bailiff.

In most cases, your landlord should begin by giving you notice that they want you to leave. This might be called a section 21 notice, a notice to quit or a notice of seeking possession. 

Depending on the type of agreement you have, the reason for the eviction, and the type of notice you are entitled to, you should get:

  • two months' section 21 notice
  • two weeks' or two months' notice of seeking possession, or
  • a minimum of four weeks' notice to quit.

After your notice period has finished, your landlord has to apply to the court for a possession order. If you don't leave on the day the court says you should, your landlord must return to the court and ask for a bailiff's warrant. If you remain in your home after the end of your notice period, you may be liable for the court costs that your landlord has to pay to get the possession order and bailiff's warrant.

If at any point in this process, your landlord forces you to leave before the bailiffs arrive then you have been illegally evicted.

When eviction without a court order is allowed

If you don't live with your landlord, you can normally be evicted only if your landlord follows legal procedure and gets a court order. However, in a small number of situations, people who don't live with their landlord can be evicted without one.

This could be the case if:

  • you live in the same building (that isn't a purpose-built block of flats) as your landlord and you share living space (including a bathroom, or kitchen) with a member of the landlord's family
  • you moved in as a squatter, even if you've since been allowed to stay
  • you don't pay rent (and, if your home comes with your job, you don't give your landlord/employer the equivalent money's worth in unpaid work)
  • you live in a hostel or other temporary accommodation
  • your landlord's home is being repossessed by the mortgage lender.

Notice to leave if you live with your landlord

If you live with your landlord in the landlord's home (for example, if you are a lodger), you will be an excluded occupier.

You are only entitled to reasonable notice before you have to leave. This notice can be given verbally. The amount of notice given should be equal to your rental period (for example, a week, if you pay your rent weekly), unless you agreed to a different notice period in advance.

It can be difficult to enforce your right to a minimum notice period, but it is illegal for your landlord to use violence to get you to leave. If this happens, call the police.

Illegal eviction by councils

Illegal eviction by councils is quite rare but it does happen. The council has the same responsibility as all landlords to follow the legal procedure for evicting you. The correct rules have to be followed. If the council is evicting you, get independent advice immediately.

Action following an illegal eviction

If you have been evicted illegally and are not sure of your rights, get advice immediately. Use our directory to find a local advice centre. An adviser may be able to:

  • tell you if you have a chance of getting back into your home or reclaiming your belongings and, if so, help you to do so
  • help you find somewhere else to live
  • help you take court action against your landlord.

If you are illegally evicted, you may be able to:

  • get help from the council to help you negotiate with your landlord
  • force your way back into the property (as long as it's safe and legal to do so)
  • get a court injunction allowing you back into your home
  • ask the council to prosecute your landlord
  • take court action to claim compensation if you've lost out financially.

Last updated: 1 January 2014