North Hertfordshire Makes First Rogue Landlord Prosecution

A North Hertfordshire landlord has been informed that she must pay out £8,000 after changing the locks on a rental property to illegally evict a tenant following an incident involving unpaid rent.

Leslie Laird, aged 73, completely emptied the flat that was let by tenant Lee Girdlestone, after he challenged the terms of an eviction noticed issued in November 2014. In addition, Laird, who also resides in the property, in Pirton Road, Holwell, near Hitchin, changed the locks to the home.

Mr Girdlestone entered an assured shorthold tenancy arrangement for the flat in January 2013. The court was told that he fell behind on the rent and was served with notice to vacate the property on in November 2014.

Following advice from the district council, he told Mr Laird that the notice was invalid due to the fact that it did not give him the full legal period of time to vacate the flat. An argument ensued, and following this, Mr Girdlestone returned to the flat on the 26th of November and discovered that the locks had changed with his possessions removed.

The case was then brought against Mr Laird by the district council, marking their first prosecution of this type.

Laird pleaded not guilty to illegally evicting Mr Girdlestone under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. However, following a three-day trial, the landlord was found guilty at Cambridge Crown Court last week.

Judge Stuart Bridge ordered him to pay £3,000 compensation to Mr Girdlestone, 47. Laird was also told that he must pay a a £5,000 contribution towards North Hertfordshire District Council’s prosecution costs, amounting to a total bill of £8,000.

Councillor Bernard Lovewell, who is responsible for housing, commented: ‘This is a landmark case for us, and we are pleased with the outcome. A private landlord must follow rules for a tenant to be lawfully evicted, which includes giving them a two-month notice period. It is a criminal offence to evict a tenant without following the legal steps, and we will seek to prosecute any landlord who illegally takes matters into their own hands. We hope this prosecution serves as a deterrent to other landlords.’

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