It is illegal for landlords to change the locks and evict tenants from rented accommodation without a court order which bailiffs usually enforce. The main exceptions to this rule are that an order is not required to evict occupiers:
- of emergency accommodation;
- who are lodgers who live with their landlord;
- of holiday accommodation;
- who do not have any legal obligation to pay rent (i.e accommodation tied to employment);
- in a council or housing association hostel.
Care is needed still if a landlord does choose not to obtain a possession order as there are still protections that may apply to the above exceptions depending on the circumstances. For example if employees do not have to live in the accommodation to undertake their job then they will have the same rights as tenants. It is important to check employment contracts as well as the rent may be deducted from wages in which case exception 4 above would not apply.
Landlords must in all circumstances give appropriate notice, for tenants this will be at least three months, and not harass or use any threats of violence. To do so is a criminal offence and the police should be contacted. The position does not change as a result of a landlord wanting to evict a tenant because of Coronavirus, a court order will still need to be obtained. Housing possession claims (save for those against trespassers) have been suspended from 27 March for three months and this may be extended further.
What can a tenant do if the landlord has changed the locks?
Tenants who find themselves in a position where their landlord has changed the locks whilst they are out or are prevented from entering their home or part of it, such as a bedroom, should contact their local council’s housing department for assistance or the council’s homelessness team as soon as possible. If you have nowhere to go attend the council’s offices in person with ID. Consider contacting a housing lawyer who will be able to help with applying for an illegal eviction injunction and compensation. Tenants on low incomes may qualify for housing legal aid which means the government will cover the legal costs upon a means assessment being carried out.
If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised above please contact a member of the Property Litigation team.
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