Background

Tackling tenant harassment

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What are your options?

Harassment can take many forms but, depressingly, it is commonly experienced by tenants, whether at the hands of their landlord, the managing agents or by workmen who come around to make repairs.

Recognising the extent of the problem for tenants, harassment by landlords and their agents has been specifically prohibited by law under a number of Acts of Parliament, as well as by the common law as a result of various court judgments.

Of course, making something illegal does not stop it happening and the harassment of tenants unfortunately still continues in the UK. The problem was starkly illustrated in May 2022, when Christopher Cox became the first person to be convicted for ‘sex-for-rent’ offences in England and Wales. The 53-year-old landlord was jailed for a year after posting adverts searching for women to wear bikinis in the house and provide sexual services in exchange for free rent. So, what exactly is harassment and what can you do if it happens to you?

What is harassment?

Harassment can come in many forms and is defined in a variety of ways under different statutes; however, it generally describes behaviour that interferes with someone else’s rights or causes them distress or alarm.

There are a number of ways that a landlord can harass a tenant, including:

  • pressuring you to move out of your home before the legal end of your tenancy, for example, with the use of threats, violence or intimidation;
  • entering your home without permission;
  • frequently visiting your home without warning, particularly at night;
  • interfering with or removing your possessions;
  • using intimidating, threatening or violent language or conduct;
  • demanding money from you in a menacing manner that you do not owe or are unable to pay;
  • threatening to change the locks;
  • repeatedly cutting off your utilities such as water, gas or electricity;
  • tampering with your mail;
  • deliberately causing your home to be flooded;
  • stopping you from having guests;
  • persistently offering you money to leave; or
  • treating you badly because of your gender, race, disability or sexuality (such as asking you for sex for rent).

Which laws protect a tenant from harassment?

If you are a tenant who is being harassed by your landlord or one of their agents – for example, a management agent, an estate agent or a workman – you are protected by a number of different laws.

Your landlord or their agent would be committing a criminal offence of harassment under the Administration of Justice Act 1970 if, while trying to recover money that you owe, they cause alarm, distress or humiliation to you or your family.

The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 defines harassment as any conduct that is likely to interfere with your peace and comfort in your home. Therefore, if your landlord (or someone acting on their behalf) knows or believes that their behaviour is likely to make you give up your tenancy rights or leave your home before the tenancy ends, this amounts to a criminal offence. For example, this would include cutting off your utilities or services, threatening you, or entering your home without your permission.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, your landlord or their agent would be guilty of a criminal offence if they knew or should have known that their conduct towards you amounted to harassment. The offending behaviour must happen on at least two occasions to count as harassment under this Act.

Conduct that might constitute harassment under this Act includes being violent, threatening or intimidating, harassing you  because of your race, gender, disability or sexuality; or using abusive or insulting words or behaviour.

Remedies

As well as making harassment a criminal offence, both the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 also offer a civil remedy. This gives you the right to go to court and claim compensation or get an injunction to stop them if your landlord is harassing you.

The Equality Act 2010 also offers a civil remedy for harassment if the landlord, or one of their agents, engages in unwanted conduct which ‘violates your dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’ because you possess one of the characteristics protected under the Act. These characteristics are: age; disability; gender reassignment; race; religion or belief; sex and sexual orientation.

Conduct that could be actionable under the Equality Act could include verbally abusing you, asking impudent questions about your religion or disability, telling filthy jokes, making rude physical gestures or pulling faces at you. If your landlord or their agents approach you sexually, or treats you badly because you spurn their sexual advances, this would also amount to harassment under the Equality Act. In addition to being  offered protection under statute, past court rulings give you the right as a tenant to seek a civil remedy if you are being harassed by your landlord or their agents.

This would include a claim for compensation or an injunction to stop the behaviour for:

  • nuisance – if your landlord used adjoining land to flood your home;
  • trespass to land – if your landlord enters your home without permission;
  • trespass to goods  if your landlord removed your belongings or prevented access to them; or
  • trespass to the person  if you were put in fear of attack or actually attacked.

Depending on the form the harassment takes, you could claim damages in court for any emotional and physical harm or financial loss the harassment has caused you, as well as obtain an injunction to stop the harassment continuing.

How we can help

We should be able to feel safe in our own homes. Our solicitors will advise you whether the conduct amounts to a criminal offence that you should report to the police and we can outline your options for possible civil remedies such as an injunction or compensation.

They will assess which law you should use to bring a claim in court against the person harassing you, then help you gather the evidence you need to strengthen your case. They will handle all the necessary paperwork and then talk on your behalf and offer advice when your case goes to court. For further information, please contact Rebecca Beynon-Phillips in the dispute resolution team on 01733 882800 or email [email protected].

Rebecca Beynon-Phillips LLB, Senior Associate


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