Harassment is a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. There is also a special type of harassment relevant to residential premises. It is a criminal offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 for any person to harass a residential occupier, or any of their friends or visitors who have gained lawful access to the property, in such a way that as a result they could be expected to give up their accommodation.
The key elements of harassment are defined as:
Acts likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of the residential occupier or the persistent withdrawal of essential services and either is committed by any person with the intention of causing the residential occupier to leave or is committed by any person with intent to stop the residential occupier pursuing their legal rights (for example, complaining about disrepair) or is committed by a landlord or agent who knows or has reasonable cause to believe that a likely result of their acts is that the residential occupier will leave, or will not pursue their legal rights. Common acts of harassment include:
threats of violence or unlawful eviction disconnecting gas, electricity or water breaking off the key in the lock deliberately disruptive repair works frequent visits, at unreasonable hours entering the property without the tenant’s permission.
Local authorities may prosecute landlords who harass tenants. If a landlord receives a letter from their local authority regarding alleged harassment against the tenant or any of their friends or visitors who have gained lawful access to the property, this should be taken very seriously. Be very careful in any dealings with that tenant and keep a detailed record of all meetings and telephone conversations. A landlord should follow any advice given to them by the council officer and they should also seek immediate advice from a solicitor experienced in landlord and tenant law.
A landlord or agent can be prosecuted in the magistrate’s court or in very serious cases a case may be transferred to the Crown Court. A penalty on conviction may include a fine and/or a term of imprisonment.
Tenants may also make a claim to the County Court for an injunction to reinstate them to the property and can claim special and general damages which can amount to tens of thousands of pounds. In addition the landlord may have to take action to terminate a new tenancy and likewise pay further compensation if they have given the tenancy to a new tenant. If an injunction is granted to reinstate a tenant and the landlord fails to abide by the order, the court may commit the landlord to prison for contempt.