Most private tenants can only be evicted if their landlord gets a possession order from the court. If your landlord has evicted you without following the correct procedure this may be illegal. Illegal eviction is a serious civil and criminal offence.
An eviction is illegal if you are forced to leave your home by someone who does not have the legal right to do this. Landlords only have a legal right to exclude tenants from a property if a court has issued a possession order.
Licensees are more easily evicted than tenants.
You might be illegally evicted if:
- your landlord doesn't give you the appropriate amount of notice to quit; the length of notice required depends on how long you've been living in the property
- your landlord changes the locks while you are out or stops you from getting into your home
- your landlord makes life so uncomfortable for you that you are forced to leave your home
- you are physically removed from the property by a person who is not employed by the Enforcement of Judgements Office.
Dealing with an illegal eviction
Illegal eviction is a serious offence. The courts may be able to force your landlord to allow you back into your home. The courts can also impose fines and award compensation in extreme cases.
If you are illegally evicted you may be able to:
- contact the council's Environmental Health Department for help in negotiating with your landlord;
- force re-entry (as long as it is safe and legal to do so);
- get an injunction from the court allowing you back home;
- claim compensation for the losses you have suffered.
Get advice from Housing Rights if you have been evicted and are not sure of your rights. An adviser may be able to help you take action against your landlord and find somewhere else to live.
Negotiate with your landlord
If your landlord has illegally evicted you or is attempting to do this, you should inform them in writing that this action is illegal. Many landlords are not aware of the law and may not realise they are acting illegally. Ask your landlord to:
- allow you back into the property
- stop trying to evict you illegally
- stop harassing you
- return your belongings.
Councils in Northern Ireland are responsible for making sure illegal evictions don't happen and can prosecute landlords who carry out illegal evictions. Report your landlord to the council if he's trying to force you out of the property without taking the proper steps. The council can take your landlord to court if you have been illegally evicted. You may also want to contact the police if you feel in danger.
What can the council do?
The council environmental health department deal with problems in private rented properties. The environmental health department can:
- help you negotiate with your landlord;
- warn your landlord of the potential consequences of illegal eviction;
- help you to get back into your home after an illegal eviction in certain cases.
Take court action
If negotiation with your landlord fails, you may be able to take court action to get back into your accommodation. The court has the power to give you an emergency injunction. This will force the landlord to let you back into your home. The court may also award compensation.
The police do not have to get involved in cases of illegal eviction unless the eviction is violent. However, it is worth contacting the police if you are illegally evicted so that there is evidence that you can use later if necessary. If you don't feel comfortable contacting the police you may want to contact a local politician or a community group so that there is evidence that you can use later.
The police can't help your landlord to illegally evict you from the accommodation. If the police tell you that the landlord has a right to evict you, contact the council immediately.
Finding somewhere else to live
If you have been evicted you need to find somewhere else to live. If you have been illegally evicted outside office hours and there is nowhere else you can go you could contact the Housing Executive out of hours homelessness section. You may get emergency accommodation immediately if you meet the homelessness tests.
Dealing with your property
If your landlord removes your belongings or leaves them in the garden or the street. you should do as much as you can to prevent your belongings being damaged or lost. Report the incident to the council and the police. Once the police or council has responded try to move your things somewhere safe as soon as possible. The Housing Executive may be responsible for storing your items if you pass the homelessness tests.
In the long term, you may be able to claim compensation from your landlord to cover any damage or theft of belongings caused by an illegal eviction. However, the court will only award compensation that is reasonable. The court may award you less compensation if you didn't do something to prevent your belongings being damaged or stolen when you could have done so.