Tenants have a right peacefully to enjoy their homes, free from harassment by their landlords. A judge succinctly made that point in awarding substantial compensation to a couple whose landlord was anxious to see the back of them so he could refurbish and sell their home with vacant possession.
The couple were tenants of a studio flat within a house in multiple occupation. Their landlord wished to convert the property back into a single dwelling and market it without any residents in situ. All the property’s other occupants had moved on, but the couple for a long time steadfastly declined to leave. Following their eventual departure, they launched proceedings.
Ruling on the matter, the judge found that the landlord was prepared to use whatever means were at his disposal to secure their departure. He conducted a campaign to make their lives uncomfortable enough to drive them from their flat. Amongst other things, he cut off their internet service, switched off their gas boiler and installed CCTV in the property for no good reason. He made vile and malicious allegations against them and regularly reported them to the police, who unsurprisingly took no action.
He and others made frequent, unnecessary visits to the flat, gaining unwarranted entry, often without notice. There was no desistence from such conduct, even after he was told that the couple were expecting their first child. When they still did not move out, he took matters into his own hands and decided to eject them himself.
He or his agents changed the locks whilst the couple were out and dumped some of their belongings outside. Having nowhere else to go, they regained access and tried to continue living in the flat, placing cardboard on the floor in lieu of a bed. Only after they were offered temporary council accommodation did they finally move out.
The court found that the landlord’s reprehensible conduct was designed to oust the couple by unlawful means by doing whatever was necessary, however improper, to secure that end. It constituted harassment and trespass to both property and goods. He repudiated the lease and breached the couple’s right to quiet enjoyment of their home. He delayed performance of his legal obligation to protect their deposit.
The landlord was ordered to pay the couple more than £45,000, including £25,000 for the anxiety they endured and £10,000 in aggravated and exemplary damages. Such an award was, the court found, amply justified.