The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 states that unlawful eviction is where any person unlawfully deprives or attempts to deprive a residential occupier of his/her occupation of the premises without going through correct legal procedures.
The only defence a landlord has against a claim of illegal eviction is if they genuinely believed that the occupier had permanently left the property. If you intend to leave your property for a long period but you will be returning, it is important that you continue paying your rent and do not remove all your belongings.
Acts of illegal evictions include:
- Changing locks when you are out
- Being physically thrown out of all or part of your home
- Physically stopping you from entering your home.
In most cases, the landlord must obtain a possession order from a county court after serving a valid notice to quit. If you receive a notice, you should not leave and/or give your keys back to your landlord. You do not have to leave when your notice expires. You should get legal advice on your rights, depending on the type of your tenancy.
Only the court can decide whether you have to leave the property. It will normally take several weeks before your case is decided in court. If the court grants possession to your landlord, you will may have to pay their court costs.
Exceptions to the normal rules
Your landlord does not need to obtain a court possession order to evict you if you:
- Have a resident landlord with whom you share facilities, like the kitchen and bathroom
- Are not paying any rent for your accommodation.
In these cases, your landlord is only required to give you reasonable notice* to leave the property. Once the notice has elapsed, you then become a trespasser and your landlord can legally change the locks at the property.
It is an offence under the Criminal Law Act 1977 for the landlord to use violence, or threaten to use violence, in order to enter a property when someone inside is opposed to that entry.
*Reasonable notice is considered to be one rental period e.g. if you pay rent on a weekly basis you will only be entitled to one week's notice.