By Manjit Rai and Antony Tregenna, Legal Advisers
Definition of harassment
Residents of park home sites are provided with protection against harassment by Section 3 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 (the 1968 Act) as amended by Section 210 of the Housing Act 2004 and Section 12 of the Mobile Homes Act 2013 (the 2013 Act). This applies to all occupiers of park homes who:
- Live on a protected site
- Have a residential contract with the site owner
Harassment is defined as an action that interferes or is likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of the occupier, or the persistent withdrawal of services or facilities reasonably required for the occupation of a park home. These actions must be carried out with the knowledge that they are likely to cause the occupier to abandon the park home, remove it from the site, or to refrain from exercising any right. Please see below some examples of what constitutes harassment.
Examples of harassment
- Forcing occupier to sign an agreement to sign away their legal rights
- Removing or restricting essential services such as disconnecting the electricity
- Entering the home without the occupiers consent
How the law has changed
Section 210(2) of Housing Act 2004 amended the definition of Section 3 of Caravan Sites Act 1968.
In order to bring a prosecution, it was required that a site owner did acts which were calculated to interfere with the peace and comfort of the occupier.
The Housing Act 2004 removed the word’ calculated’ and replaced it with acts which were ‘likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of the occupier’.
Section 12 of the 2013 Act also amended the earlier definition of harassment as outlined in Section 3 of the 1968 Act.
The word ‘persistently’ has been removed from the definition of ‘harassment’, so one act alone could amount to harassment. For example, a site owner disconnecting services that they should be supplying to the home.
What may not be harassment?
Conduct which is threatening or abusive in nature, may be interpreted as harassment. However, as stated above, the conduct has to interfere with the rights of a park home owner.
Here are examples of conduct which are not harassment
- The site owner explains to the park home owner that the pitch fee has not been paid for a number of months. He approaches the home owner and explains that if it continues to be unpaid, he will take legal action to evict him from the site. This causes considerable distress to the resident.
The site owner has a legitimate right to take appropriate action by legal action to terminate the agreement. The fact that an occupier has experienced distress is not relevant in considering an issue of harassment.
- The site owner enters the home owner’s pitch at 5.30pm without notice to read the electricity meter. On a previous occasion, the site owner came round at 9.30am without notice to deliver a letter. The home owner becomes upset and considers the site owner’s actions to be intimidating.
The site owner has a legal right of entry to the pitch without notice to read the electricity or gas meter between the hours of 9am and 6pm (Para 12 of Implied Terms).
Section 3(4) of Caravan Sites Act 1968
It shall be a defence to prove that the accused believed, and had reasonable cause to believe, that the occupier of the caravan had ceased to reside on the site.
This may apply where a site owner cut off services to a park home in the belief that the park home owner was no longer living on the site. The reasonableness of the site owner’s actions may depend upon the evidence and knowledge that the park home owner had left the site.
Who can take action against the site owner?
The local authority has the power to take action against a site owner. They have a duty to investigate any conduct which could result in harassment. Evidence may be collated in the form of diaries, photographs or statements and submitted to the local authority. They will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.
The penalties for harassment are outlined (in Section 3(3) of Caravan Sites Act 1968). A charge of harassment is tried summarily by the magistrate’s court.
- First offence: The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine
- Second or subsequent offence – an unlimited fine or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months
A leading case which resulted in successful prosecution for harassment is the Leisure Parks Real Estate v Medina Park case. In this Crown Court case, Leisure Parks Real Estate Ltd, who own Medina Park in Whippingham (Isle of Wight), was ordered to pay more than £300,000 compensation after offences committed against residents. They pleaded guilty to 11 charges, including intimidation of residents and blocking of mobile home sales. Eight victims were awarded £5,000 compensation each, totalling £40,000.
Company directors Maurice Sines and James Crickmore pleaded guilty to individual offences against residents last May. Their company, Leisure Parks Real Estate Ltd, also pleaded guilty to a string of charges, and was fined at a hearing at Portsmouth Crown Court in March 2013.
Laura Gaudion, senior lawyer for the Isle of Wight Council, which brought the prosecution, said: “We have had a number of complaints about the conduct of the company and we investigated, finding out they were putting pressure on homeowners to sell their homes back to them.
“They also contacted potential buyers of the mobile homes and said they were pieces of junk, that the bases were cracked and they weren’t worth the money being paid.”
The charges dated back to 2008 and included telling potential owners they would have to pay a site rent of £140 per month, that a home was ‘worthless’ and would have to be moved, which would cause it to fall to pieces, and threatening residents with the intent to cause them to leave their home.
The Middlesex-based company was ordered to pay £33,000 – £3,000 per offence – and the court issued a confiscation order for £275,000, from which the compensation will be paid.The confiscation order is designed to strip defendants of any money made from criminal activity. The company, which runs several park home sites around the country, were given six months to pay.