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A recent County Court decision provides a cautionary tale for any landlord or agent that might be tempted to take the law into their own hands and evict a tenant without obtaining a Court order for possession, as required by section 3 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
The case also illustrates the consequences that can result from the landlord failing to protect a deposit taken from the tenant.
In Kazadi v. Martin Brooks Lettings Estate Agents Limited & Faparusi, heard in Edmonton County Court on14 May 2015, Mr Kazadi rented a property from Mr Faparusi under an assured shorthold tenancy in 2006. This tenancy converted to a statutory periodic tenancy when the fixed-term shorthold tenancy came to an end in 2007. A further tenancy was entered into in April 2008, which again converted to a statutory periodic tenancy.
At no point was the deposit protected by the landlord or his agent in an approved tenancy deposit scheme. Nor was the information relating to the deposit, required by law to be provided by a landlord to a tenant, ever received by Mr Kazadi.
In January 2014 two unpleasant incidents occurred within a few days of each other. Firstly a representative of the landlord’s agent attended the property, tried to force his way in against Mr Kazadi’s wishes and verbally abused him, further threatening Mr Kazadi with eviction.
In a second, even more shocking incident, Mr Faparusi attended the property along with eight other persons. Following a struggle, Mr Kazadi was held down by the group, a blade being waved over his eye. Mr Kazadi was threatened with losing his eye if he continued to struggle. The police were called and, astonishingly, escorted Mr Kazadi from the property and then refused to assist him in regaining entry!
The tenant then spent some 277 days trying to find an equivalent tenancy, which was made difficult by reason of his being both a student and on housing benefit.
Claims were brought by Mr Kazadi against the agent and the landlord for, among other things:
• The return of his deposit;
• Compensation for the failure to protect the deposit under s.214 Housing Act 2004;
• Damages for unlawful eviction, assault, false imprisonment and for his belongings that were not returned by the landlord.
The Court upheld each of these claims.
Most damagingly for the landlord, the tenant was awarded damages of £31,850 for unlawful eviction, based on a daily rate of £170 for 186 days, being the period of time that the Court calculated possession could have been gained lawfully through proceedings. A further £4,450.52 was awarded in damages for unreturned belongings.
The original deposit of £1,300 was ordered to be repaid. Compensation of £1,300 was awarded for the breach of the deposit protection requirements in 2008 [the relevant legislation only having come into force after the original tenancy in 2006]. Further compensation of £2,600.00 was also awarded for failing to protect the deposit when the 2008 shorthold tenancy then converted to a statutory periodic tenancy.
Under section 214 of the Housing Act 2004, a Court may order between one and three times the amount of a deposit as compensation. Note how, in this case, the Court has treated the conversion of the fixed term tenancy of 2008 into a statutory periodic tenancy as two separate tenancies, which allowed the Court to make two separate awards of compensation.
Many landlords and agents may consider the rather extreme facts of this case and conclude that, because they would never act in such a way (by threatening violence and intimidation), they will be protected from such punishing penalties. In my view, this would be a false sense of security and this is demonstrated by comparing the financial awards in this case.
£1,000 was awarded to the tenant for the assault. A further £300 was awarded for false imprisonment and £3,000 in aggravated damages for the reprehensible behaviour directed to the tenant. Compare this sum of £4,300 against the £37,050 awarded to the tenant for the illegal eviction and the deposit claims, for which many an unsuspecting landlord or agent may find themselves subject.
Although it did not happen in this case, a tenant that has been illegally evicted will also be able to secure an injunction from the Court, requiring the landlord to allow them back into possession of the property. A landlord that fails to comply with an injunction may eventually find themselves committed to prison.
There is also the matter of an illegal eviction being a criminal offence punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.
If you are a landlord with a tenant who has not vacated following termination of their tenancy, and you are concerned at the potential expense of time and money in obtaining a possession order from the Court, this case demonstrates that giving into the temptation to take shortcuts will leave you at grave risk of severe financial penalties, a criminal record and potential imprisonment.
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