Here is a question to the blog clinic from Lisa (not her real name) who is a tenant:
I am a tenant renting a flat, In October I had to travel overseas for family reasons for three weeks. When I came back at 9pm on a Friday there was a notice on the door saying that the locks had been changed.
I called the number on the notice but only got through to a message saying the office was closed until Monday. I called the emergency number for my agent but I was told that I would have to change the locks myself, they seemed to think I had simply locked myself out. I had nowhere to stay so I had to check into a hotel for three nights.
I called the number on Monday morning and was told that the mortgage company had taken legal custody of the flat and they were now my landlord. The keys were with a new agent in town and I could have them if I took in some ID and proof I lived at the property.
I was told that the locks had been changed because letters and notices had been sent to the flat but I hadn’t responded, I found the letters in my mailbox but I was abroad when they arrived.
I eventually collected the new keys from the agent and when I entered the flat the water and electric had been turned off. There was red and white tape over everything including the toilet and I had to wait another day for a plumber to come and sort it out, which meant I had to spend another night in the hotel.
The whole situation was extremely stressful and cost me a huge amount of money, if I didn’t have my credit card I don’t know what I would have done.
I have tried to claim the money back by contacting the new agent but this has been refused, I was sent a patronising letter which blamed me for abandoning the flat for three weeks.
I have been told that it is illegal to change the locks without permission from the courts, is this true and does it mean I am entitled to some compensation for my ordeal?
This is a shocking case. You are quite right, neither your landlord nor the mortgage company were entitled to do this to you.
Three weeks is not an excessive time to be away from the property and the fact that you had failed to respond to correspondence does not justify changing the locks – when clearly your possessions were all there and you had not vacated.
I assume also that you were not in arrears of rent.
You should be entitled to claim compensation. I also think that the landlord – or in this case the mortgage company who have taken possession of the property – are liable to prosecution.
Probably the best thing to do is to contact a firm of solicitors who do housing work and see if they would be prepared to act for you on a no win no fee basis. You should be entitled to claim back all your expenses and compensation for the distress and inconvenience suffered by you.
Prosecutions are normally done by Local Authority housing enforcement officers. You may want to have a word with the your Local Authority about this.