Once again I am compelled to write a piece by a recent incident I was involved with, where the police were called for assistance by a tenant in difficulty and the tenant wished they hadn’t.
In twenty-eight years of dealing with harassment and illegal evictions, I have had a fair amount of dealings with the Police and I have to say, most of my experiences have been dreadful.
The Police – my experience
So much so, that when interviewing recently illegally evicted tenants about what happened and they tell me they called the police, I put my hands over my face because I know exactly what is coming and it’s a range of the following:-
- The police tell them that landlord-tenant matters are civil, not criminal
- The police just plainly refuse to attend
- They advise the tenant that they have no rights to remain
- They do arrive but side with the landlord who has no eviction paperwork whatsoever
In the worst scenarios the police actually help the landlord to carry out the illegal eviction, thus committing a criminal act themselves, and in one memorable case I had, a 63 year old man was punched in the face twice by the letting agent and when he reported this to police they told him it was a civil matter.
Since when did a violent assault become a civil offence?
Although the tenant did, in fact, make a successful damages claim later on.
More cases of Police Collusion with Criminal Landlords
A row over a new tenant moving in whilst the real tenant was still in occupation the police actually helped the new tenant carry her boxes upstairs to the flat while the real tenant, who had been assaulted, was taken away in an ambulance and when I phoned the police station for a report, the officer’s hadn’t even logged it as an incident, even though they were there when the ambulance took her to hospital.
I once tried negotiating in an eviction in progress and the landlord said that if he was forced to let the tenant back in he would burn the house down with her in it. I called the police on the death threat issue, secure in the knowledge that at least I was on site and could prevent things going belly up.
When they arrived I explained the legal situation to the sergeant who then went into the property and said to the tenant
“Now look love. Your landlord has asked you to leave, why don’t you just go?”
I groaned and had to ask him to step outside while I explained again.
Legal action against the police
Police have even faced legal action themselves for this kind of thing. In the 2010 case of Naughton v. Whittle & Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police the force had to pay Mr Naughton £2,500 for threatening to arrest him when called to an illegal eviction in progress.
Various helpful websites advise people being illegally evicted to call the police straight away, which is quite frankly the last thing I would advise. Yes, they can provide useful reports and CAD numbers confirming an incident but there is always the risk that the tenant will be worse off for making the call.
The confusion arises of course because whilst harassment and illegal eviction are criminal offences under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 – it’s the council that prosecutes under this legislation, not the police.
So what is the solution?
Well clearly educating the police, but what are the problems in practice there?
Believe me, I have tried countless routes, only one of which worked:-
- I’ve tried forming good working relationships with individual and helpful inspectors, sergeants and officers but they never stay in their roles for long and once they get moved onto drug squad or Operation Trident, your links are gone.
- I’ve trained large groups of inspectors at their Met Police training venue in Victoria, in the hopes that being reasonably senior the knowledge would trickle down wherever they were posted. It didn’t.
- With the help of a borough commander, I was put in touch with the education head at the police college, offering free training on the matter so all new officers would be up to speed from day one. They never responded to any emails I sent.
- I offered, again free of charge to create an app to accompany an existing product the Met uses called “iPlod” ( I kid you not) that covers information on a range of problems. Again no take up.
Eventually, I was forced to go down the road of polite but firm coercion.
Sucess of sorts
I met with our local borough commander and pointed out that his officers were routinely committing criminal offences and that as the prosecuting officer for the local authority it was getting to a point where I would have to start carrying out interviews under caution of his people.
Suitably horrified he arranged for me to train his crew every 6 – 8 weeks as new ones came in, teaching how to spot an illegal eviction and some basic tenant’s rights.
In building and maintaining a working relationship, keyed into the senior officer it completely eradicated the problem. Every time a tenant with a problem called the police they were properly advised and signposted to the right people.
That was just one initiative and I’ve heard other council’s having similarly successful partnerships like that but Initiatives based on a borough by borough basis is not an efficient way to deal with the issue.
It really is something the police nationally need to get on top of.
Something needs to be done about it
Complaints of this kind are reported regularly by people across the UK charged with dealing with harassment and illegal eviction. It should not be the case that police, who are employed to serve the community, should be giving such drastically wrong advice and even committing criminal acts themselves out of their own ignorance.
I am not the only enforcement officer that I know who is more than happy to provide free training but trying to just get people in the police who hold the right positions to talk to you is an uphill struggle.
Of course, another alternative is for enforcement officers involved in cases where the police assist in an illegal eviction, to lay charges against them, But it shouldn’t have to get to that.
Although it may have to.
Hove YOU experience of Police supporting tenants in illegal evictions? Let us have your comments below. (Note comments will close though after 3 months)