In the past four years Bristol City Council have only successfully prosecuted one landlord for illegal eviction.
Bristol City Council received 243 complaints alleging illegal evictions between 2014 and March 2018, but only one landlord was successfully prosecuted in the same period.
Councils can prosecute rogue landlords for illegal eviction, however, local data reveals that prosecution or civil penalties for illegal eviction are rarely dished out in Bristol.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 provided powers that permit local authorities to impose higher civil penalties – an alternative to prosecutions – of up to £30,000.
The new law, which came into force in April 2017, means – at least in theory – that councils can crack down harder on rogue landlords.
However, landlords who have illegally evicted tenants in Bristol have also managed to dodge civil penalties, with none served by the council since the introduction of the new laws.
In only one case, in 2016, was a landlord handed a simple caution, in what is essentially a warning of illegal action with no financial penalty.
The Cable asked Bristol City Council why there had been only one successful prosecution, and why no civil penalties had been served. Although the council claim to investigate all allegations, the next to non-existent actions raises the question of how the council can effectively collect evidence to bring cases to prosecution or to levy civil penalties.
Louie Herbert, Bristol’s lead organiser for renters’ union ACORN, said: “The fact these fines haven’t been levied might be news to some Bristol Cable readers, but it’s not news to Bristol’s worst landlords.
“As things stand, because of Bristol City Council’s inaction, it has been left to ACORN to defend tenants from these illegal evictions. And, while we might have been able to keep tenants in their homes, we also want to see the landlords who are breaking the law face financial penalties for doing so.”
An illegal eviction can involve a landlord forcing a tenant out, threatening or harassing them, stopping them from getting into certain parts of their home, or changing the locks.
A national survey in 2016 by YouGov and housing charity Shelter reported that 50,000 renters had their belongings thrown out of their home, and the locks changed by their landlords.
Prosecutions are, of course, a serious measure and must meet a high evidential basis in order for the council’s legal team to act – as stated within the Private Housing Enforcement Policy.
A public interest test also informs whether or not to prosecute. Given how common illegal evictions are according to ACORN, Herbert said that penalties must be enforced in order for there to be a proper deterrent to landlords.
It can take more than a year to prosecute a rogue landlord. The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, has for years been calling for the legal process to be sped up to bring more illegal eviction cases to court.
A Bristol City Council spokesperson told the Cable they “investigate all allegations of illegal eviction and harassment or failure to provide required information about a tenancy”.
“Where we believe it is appropriate, we may take enforcement action using powers under the relevant housing laws,” they said.
The spokesperson added that the council’s Private Housing Service work with both tenants and landlords to provide information, assistance and advice.
“Where this approach fails, we will take the necessary enforcement action. Any decision whether to prosecute will be made on a case-by-case basis in line with the Private Housing Enforcement Policy.”
The data was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Cable and dates from 2014 to March 2018.