Two private tenants have successfully taken their landlord to court after she changed the locks and stole their possessions while they were on holiday.

Jack and Craig (whose names have been changed for privacy reasons) claimed back more than £9,000 from Sheila Kawol of Ilford with the help of Waltham Forest Council after she illegally evicted them.

The pair lived in a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) in Walthamstow until in November 2018, when Jack found he couldn’t enter the property with his key after returned from a holiday.

Once he did gain entry, he discovered his room had been emptied of his possessions.

Similarly, his friend and housemate Craig discovered the lock to his door had also been changed after the landlord requested access to fix a radiator.

Both tenants had been residents at the address for more than a year and Jack had lived there for five years, always paying rent on time.

Jack and Craig contacted Waltham Forest Council’s Private Sector Housing and licensing team for advice.

They discovered the property the men had been living in had not been correctly registered with the authority.

The council then referred the case to Safer Renting, an organisation who work to protect tenants victimised by criminal landlords.

Safer Renting secured the return of Jack and Craig’s belongings with the help of the police.

Then, the organisation helped the men apply for a rent repayment order (RRO) to get some of their rent sent back to them as compensation.

Their case went to the Residential Property Tribunal in London, on July 19.

The tribunal panel heard six hours of evidence, with representations from both sides.

On August 1, the tribunal announced it had ruled in favour of Jack and Craig and awarded rental repayments of of £3737.70 and £5995.29 respectively.

Cllr Louise Mitchell, Waltham Forest Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “Imagine coming back from a holiday to a place you called home to find the locks had been changed and your possessions removed. What an unpleasant surprise – no-one should have to experience that.

“The behaviour of the landlord in this case was nothing short of atrocious. I am delighted that, with the expert assistance of Safer Renting, these tenants have been able to reclaim their money and are now able to look for safe, suitable places to call home.

“This success illustrates the impact that multi-agency working can have on tackling rogue landlords, as well as the justice that tenants can achieve without having to pay costly legal fees.”

The cabinet member encouraged prospective tenants to check their landlords have properly registered their property with the local authority before moving in.

Sarah Collins, a Safer Renting advocate, explained if a tenant is subjected to an illegal eviction or harassment or the property they live in is unlicensed, they can apply for a rent repayment order and could get up to 12 months’ of rent back.

She said: “You don’t need a lawyer to take on a case and the cost of starting is only £100 court fee.”

The Waltham Forest Private Rental Property Licensing (PRPL) scheme database is available here, and the register of licensed HMOs is available here.

Tenants in London can also check the Greater London Authority’s rogue landlord and agent checker here to see whether potential landlords or letting agents have been subject to enforcement action.