Harassment is a criminal offence which can lead to court action and imprisonment. But what is classed as landlord harassment, how can they prevent claims of harassment, and what can tenants do to protect themselves?
What counts as harassment from a landlord?
Landlord harassment doesn’t have to be about forcing tenants to leave the property. It can also include anything a landlord does or doesn’t do that makes tenants feel unsafe or stops them from living peacefully in the property.
Examples of what could count as landlord harassment:
- Changing the locks without tenants’ knowledge.
- Withholding keys in spite of tenants’ needs.
- Withholding access to communal areas.
- Withdrawal of services that tenants rely on, such as water or electricity supply.
- Refusing to carry out repairs.
- Threatening or violent behaviour.
- Discrimination based on gender, race, religion, age, or disability.
Can you force tenants to leave?
Landlords can issue a Section 8 eviction notice citing one of the Grounds for possession if they have problems with tenants. These notices can only be served if tenants have broken their tenancy agreement, for example, if:
- They are late with their rent payments.
- They have caused damage to the property.
- They obtained the tenancy by providing false information or documents.
- They have become a disturbance to their neighbours.
- They have used the property for illegal activities.
If tenants haven’t broken any tenancy rules, but landlords want to regain possession of the property, they can issue a Section 21 eviction notice. These are also known as ‘no-fault’ eviction notices.
Understanding the legal route for eviction
The rules around eviction are clearly set out. Landlords looking to evict tenants must follow the process and ensure that any paperwork is filled in correctly.
Landlords that decide not to follow the official eviction process can face accusations of harassment. Depending on the behaviour or severity of harassment, landlords could be prosecuted and even face imprisonment. If you’re unsure of the legal eviction process, legal expenses insurance can act on behalf of a landlord to issue the relevant section notices and ensure that proceedings are completed lawfully, as well as giving 24/7 access to a legal advice helpline.
Can tenants call the police if their landlord is harassing them?
Tenants can call the police, but only in emergencies – for instance, if they’re being illegally evicted or threatened with violence.
Otherwise, tenants should speak to their landlords in the first instance to try and resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work, tenants can complain to their local council but will need to bear in mind that councils can only offer help in clear cases of:
- Landlord’s failure to fulfil their landlord responsibilities under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (especially if they lead to unsafe or unsanitary conditions).
- Harassment and illegal eviction.
- Dishonest behaviour.
Can eviction ever be considered landlord harassment?
Landlords can be found guilty of harassment if they fail to follow the legal eviction process – such as issuing a Section 21 or Section 8 notice.
Under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, harassment doesn’t have to be forcing tenants to leave the property. For example, if a landlord withheld access to communal areas, this would also count as unlawful eviction and harassment.
What are revenge evictions by landlords?
Revenge evictions are when landlords issue eviction notices against tenants who make complaints about conditions or who ask for repairs.
Under an assured-shorthold tenancy, tenants can be served with a Section 21 eviction notice which does not have to include a reason for eviction. This is unlike other types of agreements (such as regulated tenancies and assured tenancies), which give tenants slightly more security. In these examples, landlords must give a reason for eviction and go to court to prove it.
How can tenants report landlord harassment?
If you’re a tenant being threatened with violence, you can call the police. Depending on the situation, you can also report landlord harassment to your local council – particularly if your landlord is violating their responsibilities and creating an unsafe environment.
Most local authorities will have a team who can advise, provide practical help, and even mediate between you and your landlord.
Other organisations and sources of information that can help tenants include:
If you want to report your landlord, you’ll need evidence of continued harassment; this could include:
Any communication between you and your landlord can be used as evidence. It’s a good idea to keep a log of emails, texts, or letters and file them by date.
If your landlord targets you through social media, this can count as harassment too, so it’s worth keeping screenshots as a record.
Note down dates and times when harassment takes place. For example, if your landlord tries to enter your property without prior agreement or if you notice they’ve been in your home without permission.
If there have been any witnesses to instances of harassment, ask if they’d be willing to provide a statement.
What acts protect tenants?
The specific laws around harassment are set out in three different acts of parliament, but examples of harassment can fall under more than one act. These acts are:
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997
- Protection from Eviction Act 1977
- Administration of Justice Act 1970
The Protection from Harassment Act, in particular, sets out clear boundaries of what counts as harassment. Specific examples that can apply to landlord harassment include:
This covers stalking behaviour which could be ‘interfering with property in the possession of a person’ and ‘contacting or attempting to contact a person by any means’.
Landlords that use threatening behaviour can be prosecuted under section 4 of the act, which covers fear of violence.
Section 5 (1) covers the use of restraining orders which could be a course of action for tenants.
This section covers how harassment can be interpreted; for example, actions that cause alarm or distress must happen at least twice to count as harassment.
How can landlords prevent claims of harassment?
It’s easy for situations to be misinterpreted, but you can minimise the risk of this happening by:
- Always giving at least 24 hours’ notice if you need to visit the property; notice should be given in writing and specify the reason for the visit.
- Never entering the property without prior permission (unless it’s an emergency).
- Making sure that pre-arranged visits are at a time that suits both you and your tenant, especially if your tenant is working from home.
- Ensure repair work is timely. If it can’t be done within a reasonable time, let your tenant know why.
- Taking an independent third-party if you have a difficult relationship with your tenant but need to inspect the property or do repairs.
- Keeping a record of communication along with any other evidence.
As a landlord, how often can I visit a rental?
There’s no legal limit to how often you can visit your rental property. That said, tenancy agreements give tenants ‘exclusive possession’ which ultimately means it’s up to them to decide who has access to the property. In other words, landlord right of entry does not exist – except for emergencies.
As a landlord, you’re responsible for repairs and maintenance, and your tenancy agreement should specify this. If a tenant chooses not to give you access for repairs, this could be considered a breach of their contract.
The importance of an effective tenancy agreement
You can cut the risk of misunderstanding between you and your tenant by ensuring the tenancy agreement lists why or when you might need access. For example, if you want to conduct six-monthly or annual inspections or provide access for gas safety engineers.
Don’t forget that tenancy agreements are also important when setting out general boundaries and expectations.
It’s also sensible for tenancy agreements to include an inventory of the rental property. This can help reduce conflict over what is or isn’t included and set out any terms related to wear and tear and who is responsible for replacements.
Protecting yourself and your assets
As a landlord, you’ll be familiar with your legal responsibilities towards your tenants, but it’s crucial that your assets are protected too.
At Alan Boswell Group, we offer a wide range of tailored services – from landlord insurance for malicious damage to protecting landlords fixtures and fittings. To learn more about how we can help, head to our landlord insurance hub or speak to a team member on 01603 216399.