Tenant Receives £24,600 in Damages Following Unlawful Eviction

Article

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.

Background

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.

Key Points of High Court Decision

  • Mr Lasrado had put forward no evidence to prove that his wife was the registered owner of the property. Instead, the evidence had proved that he was the landlord as he had described himself to Ms Lee as her landlord and had not previously claimed otherwise earlier in the proceedings.
  • In response to Mr Lasrado's claim that Ms Lee's statement was served upon him too late, the Court accepted that the late statement had merely repeated matters in her earlier witness statements. The only new matters raised were further details of the events on the day of her eviction, the assault on her when she returned to the property to collect her possessions, details of her temporary accommodation and the value of her missing property.
  • The Court also decided that Mr Lasrado's claim that he had not been given an opportunity to present his defence under s.27(8)(a) Housing Act 1988 had no merit. A defence under s.27(8)(a) relates to a defence on liability and so was irrelevant when assessing the amount of damages to be rewarded.
  • The Court also decided that even if Mr Lasrado's statement had addressed the issue of Ms Lee's conduct, her conduct would not have led to a reduction in the amount of damages she received.
  • Therefore, the High Court decided that the earlier judgment awarding Ms Lee £24,600 was correct.

Overview

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.

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