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Illegal eviction and harassment

Most tenants can only be evicted if their landlord gets an order for possession from the court. If your landlord has evicted you without following the correct procedure, this may be illegal. Illegal eviction is a serious criminal offence.

What is illegal eviction?

Illegal eviction is when you are forced to leave your home by someone who does not have the legal right to do this. Your landlord can only evict you if they follow the correct procedures. These procedures vary depending on the kind of tenancy you have. Use our tenancy checker to find out what kind of tenancy you have.

You might be illegally evicted if:

  • your landlord changes the locks
  • your landlord stops you from getting into your home
  • your landlord makes life so uncomfortable for you that you are forced to leave your home, for example by cutting off water, gas or electricity supplies or by constantly turning up at your home late at night
  • you are physically removed from the property by a person who is not a sheriff officer.

This applies to all kinds of tenant, no matter what kind of tenancy or occupancy agreement you have.

Illegal eviction by a joint tenant

Illegal eviction can also be carried out by joint tenants, so for example a tenant could illegally evict their (ex) partner by changing the locks or removing their belongings from the property. Find out more about what you can do if your partner tries to evict you from a home you rent or own here.

Talk to your landlord

If your landlord is attempting to force you out of your home without following the correct procedure, you should inform them (in writing if necessary) that this action is illegal. Many landlords are not aware of the law and may not realise they are acting illegally.

You could ask your landlord to:

  • stop trying to evict you illegally
  • stop harassing you
  • allow you back into the property
  • return your belongings.

Tell your landlord that if this doesn't happen, you will take further action. Get help from an advice centre or solicitor if necessary.

Keep copies of any letters you send to or receive from your landlord. If you try to negotiate with your landlord in person, it is useful to have an independent witness (such as an adviser or friend) in case you need evidence later.

Help from the council

The council often has members of staff who deal with problems with private tenancies. They can:

  • help you negotiate with your landlord
  • warn your landlord of the potential consequences of illegal eviction
  • help you to get back into your home after an illegal eviction.

Contact the council's housing department to find out more. You can find contact details in the Advice Services Directory or on your council's website.

Help from the police

It is a good idea to report any incident to the police immediately, call the police on 101.

Keep a diary and collect evidence of all your landlord's actions against you (for example, photographs, letters etc). This will be very useful if you need to take your landlord to court at a later date.

In addition, once you have reported your landlord, the police should investigate the case and then pass it onto the procurator fiscal, who will decide whether or not to prosecute the landlord for unlawful eviction or harassment. If your landlord is charged, it will greatly increase your chances of being awarded damages or compensation by the sheriff court.

Can I get back into my home?

If you have been evicted illegally, for example if your landlord has changed the locks on the property while you were out, you may be within your rights to force re-entry, for example by breaking a window. However, this can be risky, as your landlord may claim that you are liable for the cost of repairs, and may charge you with damage to their property. It's best to check with the police before re-entering the property by force.

I've nowhere to go

If you can't get into the property and there is nowhere else you can go, you can contact the council's homelessness department. If the council accepts that you are homeless, you should get temporary accommodation immediately.

Find out more about emergency accommodation here.

Find out how the council can help you here.

What about my belongings?

Sometimes landlords remove tenants' belongings and leave them in the garden or the street. If this happens to you, there may not be much you can do immediately. However, you should do as much as you can to prevent your belongings being damaged or lost. Try to move them somewhere safe as soon as possible.

In the long term you may be able to claim compensation from your landlord to cover any damage or theft of belongings caused by an illegal eviction. However, the court will only award compensation that is reasonable. If you don't do anything to prevent your belongings being damaged or stolen when you could have done so, the court may award you less compensation.

Can I take my landlord to court?

Yes! If negotiation with your landlord fails, you may be able to take action in the sheriff court to:

  • stop your landlord harassing you
  • get back into your accommodation
  • get compensation.

For example, you could:

  • get a non-harassment order telling your landlord to stop harassing you
  • get a court order which will force your landlord to let you back into your home and/or pay you compensation
  • claim damages for illegal eviction or for harassment which has led you to leave your home (although you cannot claim for damages if you have been allowed to move back into your home).

Get advice from a solicitor if you want to take court action. You can find solicitors listed on the Law Society of Scotland website.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're England

The important points

  • Illegal eviction is when you are are forced to leave your home by someone who does not have the legal right to do this.
  • A landlord can only evict you if they follow the correct procedures.
  • It is a good idea to report any incident to the police immediately, via 101.
  • If you can't get into the property and there is nowhere else you can go, contact the council's homelessness department.

If you're still looking for help, try searching, or find out how to contact us

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