Here is a question to the blog clinic from Cameron who is a landlord
We have a serious problem “occupier” left in our flat from an illegal sub-let situation that our actual tenant up and left us with.
The occupier is quite happy to pay no rent for 6 months and wait for bailiffs to evict him. We finally have a possession order and just applied for the bailiffs visit. Now with his eviction looming the “illegal sub-let occupier” has willfully vandalized our property by destroying the toilet and cistern and leaving bathroom taps and shower on to flood the floors which has also flooded 3 rooms in another property immediately below.
The owner of that property turned our flats water off at the valve and is naturally very angry and wants us to pay for his extensive repairs.
How can we get this occupier out immediately given the damage he is/has caused. We fear it will continue if he remains.
We have called the police but they say it is a civil matter, we tried the court to hurry the bailiffs but they say it will be 5-10 days just to process the application let alone the further delay for bailiffs to make a date to visit.
We cannot wait and allow this selfish idiot time to do more damage. Can we change the locks when he is out now that we have a possession order? What other fast track options are there to protect our investment in this case?
This is a dreadful story and just goes to show the problems that occasionally landlords suffer.
Unfortunately, the law is singularly unhelpful in this sort of situation. The only legal way to evict an occupier, even after you have an order for possession is via an officer of the court.
Using the Sheriffs
As you have found, the bailiffs can be very slow. There is another option which is to use the High Court Sheriffs. They are much quicker. However, there is a procedure to follow.
To be able to use the Sheriffs (who are High Court Enforcement Officers) you need to transfer your possession order (which was made in the County Court) up to the High Court. This needs to be approved by a High Court Judge after notice has been given to the occupier. It will probably still be quicker than using the bailiffs but will not be an immediate solution. (You can read about recent problems with this procedure here).
Using self-help measures
The other solution is the self-help solution of changing the locks while he is out, as you suggest.
This is strictly against the law. However in desperate situations it may be worth considering. What is the worst that can happen if you do this?
- The local authority can prosecute you for illegal eviction and
- The occupier can apply to the court for an injuction letting him back in and for financial compensation.
I think it most unlikely that any local authority will prosecute in these circumstances.
2. A civil claim for an injunction and compensation
I would be surprised if the court would grant an injunction to let this occupier back in – an injunction is an equitable remedy and the court will not grant it if the applicant has behaved improperly. Certainly not after the wanton disruption and damage which this occupier has caused.
As regards compensation – if this occupier has caused substantial damage, you would have a counterclaim of equal if not considerably more than any sum he would be awarded (if he were awarded anything in this situation).
There is also the point that someone like this is unlikely to bring any sort of claim via the courts anyway.
So although as a lawyer my advice under the law must be that you should never take the law into your own hands – in reality, and in these particular circumstances, it may be the best option.
Finally, there is also the point about whether this person is a tenant or not – you say it took you six months to get possession so I am assuming that he has been treated as a tenant rather than a squatter (as there is a quicker procedure to evict squatters).
However, if he is just an unauthorised occupier then his rights are considerably less than they would be if he were a tenant. Which would make the self-help option (if he ever leaves the property unoccupied) a better option.