A 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 Magistrates Court heard that 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.
The court was told that while his tenant was away on holiday, Saville had sent text messages asking if he intended to continue living at the property, a rented flat above a fish and chip shop.
Saville had bought the property five weeks earlier with the sitting tenant who had recently signed a 12 month fixed term tenancy.
Even so 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 said he was changing the locks to the property.
The tenant returned from his holiday in June 2017 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 DJ equipment and his daughter’s school uniforms 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 was only able to take what he could carry meaning he lost the vast majority of his possessions. He was forced into homelessness and had to live in a tent on a campsite for the next three months, the court heard.
As a result, he 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 council alleging illegal eviction.
After being found guilty at a previous hearing which he failed to attend, Saville was brought before Leeds Magistrates Court earlier this month 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.