A Leeds landlord who left his tenant homeless after changing the locks while he was on holiday has been hit with a suspended prison sentence for carrying out an illegal eviction.
A hearing at Leeds Magistrate’s Court heard Christopher Saville’s former tenant was forced to sleep in a tent for three months without access to most of his belongings following the eviction, leaving him unable to work.
Saville sent text messages asking if he intended to continue living at the property, a rented flat above a fish and chip shop at 9 Coldcotes Circus, Gipton after buying the property five weeks earlier with the sitting tenant, who had recently signed a 12 month fixed term tenancy.
Despite this, Saville told the tenant, a self-employed DJ, that he wanted him to sign a new tenancy agreement, pay a full month’s rent and a deposit and he was changing the locks.
The tenant returned from his holiday on June 1 2017 at 10pm to find that the external gate had been padlocked and the entrance door to the flat had been locked from the inside, effectively leaving him homeless and without access to personal belongings including his DJ equipment and nine-year-old daughter’s school uniforms.
The court was told that on a subsequent date, Saville agreed to give back the tenant’s equipment and daughter’s clothes if he handed over the keys, which he felt he had no option but to do. Saville stated that he considered this as termination of the pre-existing tenancy agreement.
The tenant was only permitted to return to the flat a few times and take what he could carry meaning he lost the vast majority of his possessions. He lived in a tent on a campsite for the next three months, was unable to keep working as a DJ and lost his income.
As a result of being made homeless, he was also unable to safely house his daughter, who at the time was the subject of custody proceedings, and had little contact for the three months he was living in a tent. The tenant has since been granted full custody of her, the court heard.
The court was told that in May 2017, the tenant approached Leeds City Council Housing Options alleging illegal eviction.
Leeds City Council understood there were reasonable grounds to believe Saville had intent to unlawfully evict the tenant and had committed an offence under Section 1(2) of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 by unlawfully depriving the tenant of the occupation of the flat.
After being found guilty at a previous hearing which he failed to attend, Saville was brought before Leeds Magistrates Court on last Tuesday and sentenced to 20 weeks custody suspended for 12 months, 250 hours unpaid work and £1,000 compensation. Saville was also banned from contacting the tenant indefinitely.
After the hearing Coun Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, said: "“It is our priority is to ensure residents have a secure home to live in. There is a wide range of help and support available for landlords to ensure they fully understand the rules and regulations that keep them and their tenants safe and tenancies and contracts legally sound. This conviction is a clear warning that we refuse to stand by when landlords do not follow these rules and we are dedicated to ensuring the welfare, safety and security of all tenants in Leeds.”