Can my landlord evict me by changing the locks?

If you’ve fallen behind on your rent payments, or cannot afford to pay the rent on your commercial property, does your landlord have the right to force you to leave by changing the locks?

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The short answer is no: a landlord must first obtain a court order for possession, and the notice must be served before a landlord can evict you. But, in a recent case in Bristol, when three business owners turned up to open their commercial premises, they found themselves locked out. Earlier that morning, the landlord had employed bailiffs to change the locks on the three properties – an Italian restaurant, a hair salon and an art shop. The landlord told his tenants to return the following week to collect their stock.

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The landlord has justified this action by claiming his tenants had fallen behind on their rent and had refused to pay an outstanding charge, which had run into thousands of pounds. The tenants dispute these claims, arguing that they do not know what the charge is for and that they have been consistently punctual in paying their rent.

While not paying rent is a valid reason for eviction, a landlord cannot do so without a court order to possess the property. In the court order, he must clearly state the reason for possession, and he must give his tenants a reasonable time period in which to fulfil their rent obligations. Only after this period expires is a landlord allowed to use bailiffs to change the locks.

It is not yet clear in this case whether the landlord had the right to evict his tenants. Nevertheless, it is a criminal offence to change the locks without following the correct procedure.

If you have been locked out by your landlord, we offer a 30 minute fixed fee diagnostic meeting to discuss your next steps. Telephone us on 01273 604 123 or email enquire@bbc-law.co.uk today.

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