I have just read an interesting case (Hunt v. Hussesin, Epsom County Court) in the housing section of the Legal Action Magazine, which should serve as an awful warning to landlords tempted to lock out their tenants.
In May 2003 Mr Hunt took on an assured shorthold tenancy of a room from Mr and Mrs Hussein, at a weekly rent of £90. However three months later he lost his job. It looks from the report as if he was applying for Housing Benefit, but notwithstanding this, and also notwithstanding a threatening letter sent by the local council, Mr and Mrs Hussein forcibly evicted him by changing the locks and refusing to let him back in again.
Poor old Mr Hunt (45) then had a rather rotten time, sleeping where he could, and it was three months before he was able to find somewhere else to live. Not surprisingly this experience had a very negative effect on him, and four years after the eviction he was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as suffering from severe depression, agoraphobia and ‘paranoid ideation’ (whatever that is), and was found unfit to work. The psychiatrist’s view was that the root cause of his mental deterioration was the trauma of the eviction by the Husseins back in 2003.
However the Husseins were not going to be allowed to get away with it. The local authority prosecuted them under the criminal jurisdiction in the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, and Mrs Hussein was fined £300 and ordered to pay costs of £250. However this was small cheese compared with what was to come next. This was a civil claim based on breach of contract and tort (presumably funded by a no win no fee agreement, Mr Hussein being represented by the Surrey Law Centre), and in July 2009 judgement was entered against Mr and Mrs Hussein.
The judgement was for £56,678.
This was made up of damages of £125 per day for 65 days, damages for personal injury of £45,000, special damages of £100 and interest of £3,453 (plus of course interest will be accruing at a daily rate until the judgement is paid).
The Judgement was a default judgement, which means that the proceedings had been ignored by Mr and Mrs Hussein. However this will not help them, as a ‘freezing injunction’ was made in respect of their properties, and no doubt Mr Hunt’s solicitors are now applying for charging orders and orders for sale. Let us hope for Mr Hunt’s sake that there is some equity in them (particularly as the poor man has had to wait so long).
But I expect Mr and Mrs Hussein will now regret treating Mr Hunt so badly. Be warned!