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What is illegal eviction?

This content applies to England

This page looks at what constitutes illegal eviction.

The majority of occupiers cannot be evicted unless specific legal procedures have been followed. The exact procedures vary according to the particular type of tenancy or licence agreement the occupier has. See the section on Security of tenure for more information. Action taken by a landlord or any other person to deprive an occupier of access to all or part of their accommodation without following the correct legal procedures constitutes illegal eviction.[1]

Before deciding whether a person has been evicted illegally it is necessary to check whether any legal action has been taken to end the tenancy or licence and whether the legal procedures have been followed correctly.

An illegal eviction can take place:

  • by force (eg being physically removed from the property)
  • by the locks being changed while the tenant is out
  • by being denied re-entry, or
  • by the occupier being deprived of access to a part of the premises which s/he is entitled to occupy (such as locking a toilet door or blocking access to a living room).

Any person, and not just the landlord or her/his agent, can commit the offence of illegal eviction.[2] Illegal eviction may not be permanent, ie an illegal eviction can take place for a short period of time or if the occupier is subsequently reinstated in the accommodation.

If the landlord has obtained a court order for possession against the tenant, and s/he subsequently engages a bailiff in executing the order for possession, this does not constitute an illegal eviction and will not be an offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. However, where a landlord who has obtained an order for possession resorts to self-help to take possession of the premises her/himself, without involving a bailiff, s/he may be guilty of unlawful eviction.[3] If this happens, the tenant may claim damages under section 28 of the Housing Act 1988.

In relation to excluded occupiers, although there is no requirement for a court order, the landlord must give reasonable notice, otherwise s/he may still be found guilty of harassment and illegal eviction. Once the period of reasonable notice has expired, the excluded occupier is protected from 'violent eviction', other than 'reasonable force' during an eviction by the landlord.[4]

Defence to illegal eviction

If a person charged with illegal eviction can prove that s/he believed (or had reasonable cause to believe) that the tenant was not residing in the property, s/he has a defence.[5] The matter of whether that belief was held and what is reasonable cause for that belief to be held depends on the facts of the case and the behaviour of both parties.

[1] s.1(2) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

[2] s.1(2) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

[3] Haniff v Robinson 26 HLR 386, CA (9 June 1992); R v Chyna Gray and others, Croydon Crown Court, 21 June 2011.

[4] s.6 Criminal Law Act 1977.

[5] s.1(2) Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and s.3(4) Caravan Sites Act 1968.

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