Getting the keys to your dream home should be the start of a joyous period in your life, but for a young couple who recently asked for our help it was the start of a 12 month nightmare which saw them unlawfully evicted, forced to move back in with their parents and left with no choice but to go to court to regain access to their home.
Partner - Property Disputes
Geoff Stagg, a Partner in the property disputes section of the Civil & Commercial Litigation Department, handled the case and as he explains, what happened to the clients was quite extraordinary, as was the eventual outcome.
An Unusual Case of Unlawful Eviction
The facts of this case were unusual because unlike typical unlawful eviction cases, which involve landlords evicting tenants with a short-term lease, what you had here was the freehold owner of a building that had been divided into flats unlawfully evicting a couple who had bought one of those flats.
The circumstances leading up to the eviction were complicated, but in essence the building owner alleged that the previous owners of our client’s property had failed to pay him thousands of pounds in outstanding service charges for repairs and maintenance. He insisted that our clients were responsible for settling these and when they queried this, and subsequently refused to pay, he responded by changing the locks to their property while they were out without a court order and refused to let them back in.
When the clients came to see us they were understandably distressed. They had paid nearly £200,000 for their first home in which to raise a family and were now faced with being unable to live there.
We explained to the building owner that he had no right to lock our clients out and demanded that he immediately provide them with a new set of keys so they could regain access. He refused, which left us with no option but to start court proceedings for what was clearly an unlawful eviction.
Incensed by this, the building owner did all he could to make dealing with the proceedings as difficult as possible. He acted without using solicitors and even made veiled death threats to myself and my colleague Louise as a result our involvement in the matter.
A Successful Outcome
In spite of this we pushed on and after a 12 month battle we were successful in securing an order from the court confirming our clients’ right to be let back into their home. Initially the building owner still refused to comply with this but eventually had no choice but to cave in after we issued further contempt proceedings which could have resulted in him being imprisoned if he continued to ignore the order that had been made.
In recognition of the distress, inconvenience and financial losses our clients had incurred, we were also successful in obtaining an order from the court compelling the building owner to pay our clients over £66,000 in compensation, which is possibly the highest ever award made in an unlawful eviction case of this type in England and Wales.
Needless to say the clients were delighted with the outcome, although understandably they have since decided to sell the property so they can start a new chapter in their life somewhere else untainted by the horror of what they have had to endure.
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