Harassment by Landlords
What constitutes harassment?
Harassment by a landlord is a serious offence that carries civil as well as criminal penalties. The law relating to harassment of a tenant and unlawful eviction is very one sided and heavily weighted against the landlord. What a landlord might consider as acting in a reasonable way might legally be seen as an act of harassment. For instance, faxing a letter about rent arrears to the tenants work resulted in a successful claim for harassment against one landlord, that resulted in damages of £750 being awarded.
Harassment includes a landlord: cutting off water, gas, or electricity; threatening tenants with eviction; interfering with the tenant’s mail; long-term failure to do repairs; deliberate noise pollution, seeking the tenant outside the scope of the rental property i.e. going to the tenant’s workplace.
How can a landlord avoid accusations of harassment?
Landlords should never coerce a tenant into leaving a rental property no matter how bad they are. If a landlord proposes to do something to their tenant thinking “that will get rid of them”, if they have not got a legal reason for their actions, they will probably be considered as acting unlawfully.
If a landlord must visit their tenant under any strained circumstance, it might be advisable to try to take along an independent witness. In this way, the landlord will be in a position to defend themself from spurious claim made by the tenant.
A landlord needs to be particularly careful where they think a tenant has left the property or so called Abandonment. They should never be tempted to change the locks and remove tenants’ possessions in such circumstances even if they are unconvinced that the tenant has done a ‘runner’. This is because by virtue of S5 (2) of the Housing Act 1988 a tenancy can only be brought to an end by the landlord obtaining a Court order for possession or by a surrender or similar act by the tenant. If the courts are convinced that the landlord intended to re-instate the tenant after a discussion about rent arrears it is likely the landlord will be prosecuted for harassment, if they believe the intention was the eviction be permanent then the landlord will be prosecuted for unlawful eviction
Landlords should always give the tenant as much notice a possible if they are to visit the property to avoid any potential claims of harassment. At least 48 hours ideally unless there is an emergency. In wording the notice it is always a good idea to couch the notification in the negative. That is to say “ I will be visiting the residential investment property at 1pm on Thursday 6 June. If this is not convenient please notify me ASAP.”
A landlord should never approach a tenant for rent or matters relating to a potential conflict involving the tenancy outside the scope of the premises they are letting as this could constitute harassment.
If problems a rise a landlord should remember to keep dated notes about their actions and the tenants response in case the matter does go to court and the tenant tries to claim harassment.
A landlord needs to be realistic about losses, including any loss of rent, because the financial penalties of being convicted for harassment could be far worse