06 August, 2013
The High Court has recently decided that an award of £24,600 in damages for a tenant who had been unlawfully evicted was fair.
Ms Lee was a tenant of a flat and claimed that Mr Lasrado, as her landlord, harassed her, changed the locks and evicted her. Ms Lee began proceedings against Mr Lasrado for unlawful eviction and she was granted an injunction compelling Mr Lasrado to re-admit her into the flat. Mr Lasrado then failed to comply with the court order and a committal order was made against him. Following the committal order, the court decided that there should be a judgment for Ms Lee in respect of her claim for damages and the amount of damages was to be determined by the court. The county court assessed Ms Lee's' damages at £24,600.
Mr Lasrado then argued that the injunction should not have been made against him because he was not the landlord of the property. He submitted that his wife was the registered owner of the property and he was merely an agent for his wife. He also argued that he had not had enough time to address Ms Lee's case as her witness statement was only served the day before the hearing and he had not been given an opportunity to present his defence to the claim for damages under s.27(8)(a) Housing Act 1988. Finally Mr Lasrado claimed that his own statement had been hurried and so did not include his argument that Ms Lee's conduct justified a reduction in the amount of damages following s.27(7)(a) Housing Act 1988.
The amount of damages awarded in this case highlights how seriously courts take the matter of unlawful eviction and breach of court order. It is essential that tenants are evicted lawfully under the Protection From Eviction Act 1977 and Housing Act 1988 in order for landlords to avoid a substantial claim for damages like the case above.
It is also noteworthy that Mr Lasrado appears to have represented himself throughout the proceedings. This evidently had a detrimental impact, since he appears to have been unaware of how to adduce evidence to back up his defence. This is a salutary reminder to all private landlords that legal advice is worth seeking and is best obtained early - preferably in time to prevent an unlawful eviction from occurring in the first place.