Harassment by a private landlord

A landlord or letting agent who won't let you live in your home in peace, or acts in a way intended to make you leave your home or to take away your rights could be guilty of harassment, which is a criminal offence.There are steps you can take to deal with this.

You may be able to get support to deal with harassment. Contact an advice centre, the police, the council, or a solicitor for help – use our directory to find services in your area.

Types of harassment

Threatening or discriminatory behaviour by your landlord or letting agent may be harassment. This could include:

  • threatening or being violent towards you
  • intentionally moving in other tenants who cause a nuisance to you
  • harassing you because of your gender, race or sexuality
  • forcing you to sign agreements which take away your legal rights.

Unreasonable behaviour by your landlord or letting agent which could count as harassment includes:

  • interfering with your post
  • entering your home when you are not there or without your permission
  • visiting your home regularly without warning, especially late at night
  • stopping you from having guests.

Landlords or letting agents may be guilty of harassment by restricting the use of your home, by:

  • allowing your home to get into such a bad state of repair that it's dangerous for you to stay
  • sending builders round without notice
  • beginning disruptive repair works and not finishing them
  • refusing to let you into certain parts of your home (for example, the kitchen or bathroom)
  • removing or restricting access to services such as gas, electricity or water, or failing to pay the bills so these services are cut off.

Read Shelter's fact sheet Illegal eviction for more information on being evicted illegally

Taking action against landlord harassment

If your landlord (or agent) is harassing you, you may be able to get help from the council, or take your landlord to court. Harassment does not have to be obvious or intentional before you can do something about it. You can also take steps to record and report the harassment.

Keep records of harassment

It is helpful to keep a record of what has been happening. The record will be useful if you have to take further action against a landlord at a later date.

The record could include:

  • a diary of what is happening, including the time, date and place where any incident took place and a short description of what happened
  • photographs of any damage the landlord has caused to the property or your belongings
  • short descriptions of any incidents by anyone who witnessed them
  • details of who you reported the incident to and when.

Put agreements in writing

It may help to make all contact that you have with your landlord more formal. This can protect you by giving you space to think about what you want to say or do, and by providing you with evidence about what has happened. This could be useful in case of a dispute in the future.

The following things may help:

  • Only communicate with your landlord in writing – keep copies of every letter that you send.
  • Ask your landlord to only deal with you in writing – keep copies of all letters you receive.
  • If you have a conversation with your landlord, follow this up with a letter that confirms what was said and what was agreed.

Document and witness meetings with your landlord

Have a friend or adviser with you whenever you have to deal with your landlord in person. Make a note of what is said and agreed, and follow up your meeting with a letter setting out what was agreed.

Report incidents of harassment

It is important that you report any incidents of harassment to the local council tenancy relations or similar service. Report any serious or violent incidents to the police as well. This will create an independent record of what is happening. These organisations may also be able to help you to resolve the problems.

Use our directory to find an organisation near you which could help.

Ask the police to help

Although harassment and illegal eviction are both criminal offences, it can often be difficult to get the police to help you to prevent them from taking place. There is often some confusion about the law, and what responsibilities the police have.

However, they will usually agree to come to the property to prevent a breach of the peace from taking place. This could be helpful if you need to get back into the property, or reclaim your belongings. An adviser may be able to explain the situation to the police, and clarify the ways in which they can help.

If you have difficulty getting the police to help you, or if they come to your home and mistakenly help your landlord to evict you illegally, you can complain to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which will investigate your complaint.

Get together with other tenants

If you live in shared accommodation it is possible that your landlord is also harassing other tenants in the property. If this is the case, then you could all join together to form a residents' association and approach the landlord as a group. You will have more bargaining power if you act together and your landlord will not be able to single out one person. You can also provide witness statements for other tenants if any incidents occur.

Some types of shared accommodation are known as houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and councils have extra powers to take action against landlords of HMOs. This might apply to you if you live in a bedsit, a house or flat shared by several households, a hostel or a bed and breakfast hotel.

Get help if you've been illegally evicted 

In an emergency, such as if you have been locked out, contact your local council. There is usually a tenancy relations officer who deals with harassment and illegal eviction. If there is no-one available to help immediately or if violence has been threatened, you should also call the police.  

Find out more about challenging illegal eviction.

Take action against harassment by a letting agent

Your private landlord may have employed a letting agency or managing agent to look after their property. Harassment or illegal eviction by an agent or by anyone working on behalf of the landlord is a criminal offence.

If your landlord knows how the agent is behaving, then your landlord could be held equally responsible by law. If your landlord could not have known what was happening, then the agent will be held solely responsible.

If you are being harassed or have been illegally evicted by an agent, you may be able to complain to the agent's trade association – find out more about complaining about letting agents.

Last updated: 1 January 2014