This page is targeted at housing professionals. Our main site is at www.shelter.org.uk

Taking action

This content applies to England

The various courses of action that may be available to those experiencing harassment, illegal eviction and/or antisocial behaviour, looking at which course of action is most appropriate in different circumstances.

People facing harassment, illegal eviction and/or antisocial behaviour may be able to take action against the perpetrator using one or more legal remedies. What action is most appropriate will depend on a number of factors including what outcome the person hopes to achieve, the security of tenure of the occupier, and the seriousness of the offences.

People who are reluctant to take action

People experiencing harassment, illegal eviction and/or antisocial behaviour may be reluctant to take action against the perpetrator for a number of reasons. Stress and anxiety caused by incidents of harassment or violence may be factors affecting what the client hopes to achieve. Clients may also be fearful of retaliation by the perpetrator. Advisers should explain the practical steps the client may be able to take if s/he wishes to take action, the legal remedies available, and the alternative accommodation options the client may have if s/he chooses to leave.

Clients with limited security of tenure

Checking the occupier's housing status is often the first step in helping the client to decide what action may be appropriate. This is particularly important in cases of harassment under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and/or illegal eviction, as an occupier's security of tenure will dictate how a tenancy can be brought to an end legally.

Excluded occupiers

If an occupier is an excluded occupier[1] (for example if s/he shares accommodation with the landlord), the landlord can end the tenancy simply by giving 'reasonable notice'. Excluded occupiers are outside of the protection of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 [2] once reasonable notice has expired or their contract has come to an end, and the landlord is permitted to evict the occupier peacefully, without a court order. This might include changing the locks while the occupier is out.

It may still be possible for an excluded occupier to take action against violence or persistent harassment using other legislation; for example the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Criminal Law Act 1977 and/or the Criminal Damage Act 1971. See the pages on Antisocial behaviour and harassment, Offences involving violence, Environmental nuisance and Offences relating to dogs for more information about these options. The section on Basic protection/excluded occupiers gives more information about the rights of excluded occupiers.

Assured shorthold tenants

Assured shorthold tenants have limited security of tenure. Although it is possible to stop an illegal eviction from being carried out using the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, this will only ensure that the occupier is able to remain in the accommodation until the landlord seeks possession under the assured shorthold procedure for recovering possession.[3] Landlords seeking to use this procedure must give the tenant at least two months' notice in writing,[4] and then get a court order. For more information see the section on Assured shorthold tenancies.

Clients who do not want to or cannot remain in the accommodation

Clients may prefer to seek alternative accommodation rather than to take legal action against the perpetrators. This may be because of fear of retaliation; conditions that make it unreasonable to remain in the property; or simply because the client wants to move. It may be possible to move to other accommodation and still take action against the perpetrator, depending on the legal remedy being sought.

Moving into alternative accommodation

Clients may prefer to move into alternative accommodation if the situation becomes intolerable. This may be an appropriate solution for some tenants (eg those with little security of tenure). Advisers should explain that the client may lose (or gain) some rights, depending on the type of tenancy they have and the type of tenancy they are likely to have in the accommodation they move into.

Tenants of local authorities or housing associations may have the option to seek a transfer or exchange their home with other local authority/housing association tenants. For more information see the page Transfers, exchanges and nominations.

Making a homelessness application

If the client becomes homeless, s/he may be able to make a homelessness application (see LA duties: applying as homeless for more details).

An applicant will be regarded as statutorily homeless if it is not reasonable to remain in her/his accommodation because s/he, or someone s/he normally lives with or who might reasonably be expected to live with her/him is being subjected to domestic or other violence or threats of violence that are likely to be carried out.[5]

The Homelessness Code of Guidance also states that accommodation may not be reasonable to continue to occupy if the applicant is suffering severe harassment.[6]

While authorities may advise an applicant to pursue a legal remedy (eg an injunction), this should not be done purely as a matter of policy and must take account of the applicant's safety in each individual case.[7] The council cannot make judgements about a person's decision to take action under criminal or civil law when deciding whether s/he is homeless.[8]

Authorities should also accept an applicant as homeless if s/he has accommodation but cannot secure entry (eg because of an illegal eviction by the landlord).[9] The local authority cannot refuse to assist someone who is homeless in this situation even though legal remedies may be available to the applicant to regain possession of the accommodation.[10]

Clients experiencing violence

Clients experiencing violence may be able to bring proceedings against the perpetrator under criminal or civil law. This might result in an injunction, a claim for damages and/or a claim under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Female clients experiencing domestic violence can also contact Women's Aid to find emergency accommodation in a refuge. For more information about domestic violence, see the Domestic abuse section. The homelessness section provides more information on all homelessness law.

[1] ss. 30-31 Housing Act 1998.

[2] s.3A Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

[3] s.21 Housing Act 1988.

[4] s.21(1)(b) Housing Act 1988.

[5] s.177(1) Housing Act 1996.

[6] para 8.34 Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, July 2006.

[7] See Chapter 6 paras 8.22-8.24 Homelessness Code of Guidance, July 2006.

[8] Bond v Leicester CC, 23 October 2001, Court of Appeal.

[9] s.175(2)(a) Housing Act 1996.

[10] para 8.16 Homelessness Code of Guidance, July 2006.

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