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.

This content applies to England

Definition of illegal eviction

Illegal eviction is defined in the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. It is a criminal offence.[1]

Illegal eviction occurs when a landlord or another person deprives a residential occupier of their occupation of the property without following the correct legal process.[2]

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'.[3] 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:[4]

  • the landlord

  • the landlord’s agent

  • any other person

A landlord, landlord’s agent or any other person may be also guilty of harassment if they:[5]

  • 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.[6] It is an offence for any person 'without lawful authority' to use violence against someone else to secure entry to premises,[7] including moveable structures converted for residential use.[8]

Landlords do not have the authority to threaten or use violence, regardless of whether they have obtained a possession order.[9]

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.[10]

The police can also arrest a person who is committing or is about to commit the criminal offence of illegal eviction.[11]

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.[12]

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 occupier can also take civil action to claim damages.[13]

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.[14]

Each case is decided on its own merit and the behaviour of both parties is taken into account.

Forcing re-entry

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.[15]

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.

Last updated: 3 February 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s. 1(4) Protection from Eviction Act 1977 specifies that it is a summary or an indictable offence.

  • [2]

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

  • [3]

    s.1(1) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

  • [4]

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

  • [5]

    s.1(3)-1(3A) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

  • [6]

    s.6 Criminal Law Act 1977.

  • [7]

    s.6(1) Criminal Law Act 1977; the definition is not limited to landlords, see for example Wakolo v Director of Public Prosecutions [2012] EWHC 611 (Admin).

  • [8]

    s.12 Criminal Law Act 1977

  • [9]

    s.6(2) Criminal Law Act 1977.

  • [10]

    s. 6 Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

  • [11]

    s.24(5) Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, see also R v Rollins[2010] UKSC 39.

  • [12]

    S.1(4) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

  • [13]

    s.1(5) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

  • [14]

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

  • [15]

    s.1 Criminal Damage Act 1971.