The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 defines harassment as behaviour that the perpetrator knows (or ought to know) amounts to harassment of the victim and which occurs on at least two occasions.
Harassment may occur if the landlord, or the landlords representative, does something to interfere with the occupation of the tenant or persistently withholds services that the tenant requires. Actions that could constitute harassment include:
- forcing the tenant to sign an agreement that takes away their legal rights
- removing or restricting services such as hot water or heating (including failing to pay utility bills so the services are cut off)
- constant visits to the property, particularly late at night and without prior warning
- entering the property when the tenant is out without prior permission
- stopping the tenant from having guests
- intentionally moving other tenants in who cause a nuisance
- threats of or actual violence
If negotiations with the landlord to stop the harassment or prevent an eviction have failed, tenants can consider taking the landlord to court. Action can be taken in the civil or criminal courts.
Taking out a civil action in the civil courts allows tenants to get an injunction to stop the harassment, be reinstated into the property and get damages as compensation for the landlord's actions. To be successful, the tenant has to prove his or her case on the balance of probabilities.
A tenant will normally need a solicitor or a housing advice worker experienced in court work to help with an action in the civil court.
Criminal actions may be more appropriate where the case is urgent or where violence has been alleged. Landlords are usually prosecuted by the local council. The tenant would have to attend the magistrates' court and explain what has happened and ask for a summons to be issued.
If the landlord is convicted in the magistrates' court, he or she can be fined up to £5,000 and or sent to prison for up to 6 months.