What is illegal eviction?
Depriving occupiers of their occupation of the property without following the correct legal process is illegal eviction and occupiers have legal protection.
Definition of illegal eviction
Illegal eviction is defined in the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. It is a criminal offence.
Illegal eviction occurs when a landlord or another person deprives, or attempts to deprive, a residential occupier of their occupation of the property without following the correct legal process.
A residential occupier is defined as ‘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'. This definition applies to both tenants and licensees.
Illegal eviction does not have to involve physical force or violence.
Illegal eviction can take place by:
the locks being changed while the tenant is out
being denied re-entry
depriving the occupier of access to a part of the premises which they are entitled to occupy, for example by locking a toilet door or blocking access to a living room)
depriving the occupier of essential services, for example cutting off the electricity supply, so that they leave
physical force (being physically removed from the property)
The offence of illegal eviction can be committed by:
the landlord’s agent
any other person
This can include a head landlord where there is a subtenancy. In one case where a head landlord illegally evicted a subtenant, the mesne tenant who failed to prevent the illegal eviction could not be held liable. Only the head landlord who carried out the illegal eviction was liable for damages awarded to the subtenant.
deprive the occupier or a member of their household of any services reasonably required to continue living in the accommodation
interfere with the peace and comfort of an occupier or a member of their household
Before deciding whether a person has been evicted illegally, it is necessary to check:
what legal process the occupier is entitled to
whether any legal action has been taken to end the tenancy or licence
whether legal procedures have been followed correctly
The correct procedure for evicting an occupier
The exact procedure the landlord has to follow vary according to the particular type of tenancy or licence agreement the occupier has.
See notices in possession proceedings for more information about notice rules for each tenancy type.
Illegal eviction and violence
Where violence is used to evict an occupier, it may constitute a criminal offence. It is an offence for any person 'without lawful authority' to use violence against someone else to secure entry to premises, including moveable structures converted for residential use.
Landlords do not have the authority to threaten or use violence, regardless of whether they have obtained a possession order.
Offences under the Criminal Law Act 1977 are criminal offences and action is brought in the magistrates' court.
Occupiers whose landlords are threatening or engaging in violence should contact the police.
Penalties for illegally evicting an occupier
Local authorities have the power prosecute for illegal eviction.
The police can also arrest a person who is committing or is about to commit the criminal offence of illegal eviction.
If a landlord, their agent or any other person is found guilty of illegally evicting an occupier, they can be fined or sentenced to imprisonment.
Illegal eviction is also a banning offence under the Housing and Planning Act 2016, meaning that if found guilty, the landlord or agent could lose the right to rent out properties.
Help for occupiers
Occupiers whose landlords are threatening or engaging in illegal eviction are advised to contact the police and the private rented sector team at their local council.
The police might need to have their responsibilities explained to them in an illegal eviction case. The European Court of Human Rights has held that the police's failure to prevent an illegal eviction was a breach of the occupier's human rights.
Civil action for damages
For more information, see the Gov.uk Guidance for occupiers subjected to harassment or illegal eviction.
Defence to illegal eviction
A person charged with illegal eviction has a defence if they prove that they believed or had reasonable cause to believe that the tenant was not residing in the property at the time.
Each case is decided on its own merit and the behaviour of both parties is taken into account.
The risk of re-entering the property is that if there is another person living there, the occupier might be committing an offence under the Criminal Law Act 1977, unless they meet the definition of a displaced residential occupier.
In addition, forcing re-entry carries the risk of committing the offence of criminal damage.
If the occupier decides to try to regain occupation, it is advisable for to have a tenancy relations officer and/or the police in attendance, so as to provide assistance in case of a confrontation with the landlord.
Obtaining an emergency injunction to re-enter or requesting assistance from the local authority’s tenancy relations officer would minimise the risk of any criminal sanctions.
For information about what action an occupier who has been illegally evicted can take, see Occupier's legal remedies.
Template letter: advice for police attending an illegal eviction
The police can assist an occupier who is at risk of being evicted illegally. They can:
warn the landlord that they might be about to commit a criminal offence
arrest the landlord if a criminal offence is committed
mediate if they’re present at a confrontation
contact the local authority to report events
Occupiers can use this template note for the police or show a copy to the attending officers.
SHELTER'S ADVICE FOR ATTENDING POLICE OFFICERS
This property is being occupied under a legal tenancy agreement that falls under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
The landlord must apply to court to evict this tenant lawfully. Only court appointed bailiffs can enforce this.
Under section 1 Protection from Eviction Act 1977, any individual who deliberately and unlawfully deprives the occupier of their occupation of this property is committing a criminal offence.
The same applies to any individual who carries out acts calculated to cause the occupier to give up occupation without following the lawful process.
WHAT POLICE OFFICERS CAN DO
When attending an incident which may involve a Protection from Eviction Act 1977 offence, it is suggested that police officers:
NOTE details which may be relevant to the above offences, including admissions, accusations, etc.
WARN the landlord where you suspect they may be committing, or about to commit an offence, that this will be reported to the appropriate authority.
Consider ARRESTING the landlord if they try to get into the premises against the wishes of the residential occupier (S.6(1) Criminal Law Act 1977).
Consider appropriate action in relation to OTHER OFFENCES e.g. assault, breach of the peace, harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Try and persuade both parties to PUT THINGS BACK as they were (e.g. try to get the landlord to allow the tenant back in, to change the locks back or to give the tenant a key).
Do not get involved in civil disputes about rent, repairs – these are unlikely to have much bearing on the criminal law.
REFER the tenant and landlord to the local authority’s private sector housing team.
INFORM the local authority’s private sector housing team of any relevant incident as soon as possible.
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Last updated: 27 October 2022