Sue Ellingham
Posted on 12 May 2020

COVID-19 – domestic life: requiring someone to leave during lockdown

We have all been subject to lockdown for at least part of the COVID-19 pandemic. This, of course, does not mean that everything else has come to a standstill. Life continues; the situation in which people find themselves and their relationships can change just as easily as in more normal times.

The additional factor which applies now is that people frequently feel more anxious and helpless under restrictive conditions, such as the COVID-19 lockdown.

A typical example from domestic life

Background: Sophie and Lorenzo

  • Sophie (not her real name) was working in a pizza restaurant.
  • She is a very friendly person and got on well with most of the other staff, including a chef called Lorenzo (again, name changed).
  • They had started a relationship and had been together (but not living in the same place) for three months.
  • When the lockdown was announced, the restaurant was closed immediately.
  • Lorenzo told Sophie that his three flatmates had all left at once and had returned to Italy.
  • Now that he had no work, he could not afford his share of the rent, even if the others had stayed, and he certainly could not pay it all on his own.
  • Sophie took pity on Lorenzo and told him that, until things had been ‘sorted out’, he could stay in her room in the flat which she shared with three others.
  • Nothing formal was agreed about how long he could stay, how much he would pay, and what he would contribute towards the expenses. Lorenzo moved in.

Things started to go wrong very quickly.

  • Lorenzo said he had no money and he expected Sophie to buy his food.
  • He paid nothing towards the expenses.
  • Lorenzo stayed in bed most of the day and smoked heavily, which Sophie dislikes intensely.
  • When Sophie asked him to get up and not to smoke inside, he was abusive; threatened her, and struck her several times.
  • On one occasion Sophie thought she might have broken her arm, but she did not want to go to hospital.
  • Sophie became very frightened of Lorenzo.
  • Sophie and her flatmates wanted Lorenzo to leave. He refused.
  • Sophie started sleeping on the floor in another room and avoiding Lorenzo as much as possible.
  • Even worse for Sophie, Lorenzo kept telling her that he loved her and that he wanted her to sleep with him.

Sophie took some informal advice and was told that there was nothing that she could do until the lockdown was over. She decided to seek legal advice.

Are the courts available during lockdown?

Contrary to the impression that has sometimes been given, the courts are still operating under lockdown. Some of the smaller courts have closed temporarily and many cases are being held back.

However, access to the law is still possible in an urgent situation. Some procedures have had to change to accommodate the necessary safety features to protect everyone as much as possible from the virus. A significant amount is being done online.

What is Lorenzo’s legal position in occupying the flat?

Lorenzo has no legal right to remain in the flat after being asked to leave. He was never a tenant in the legal sense, but was merely given permission to stay there. Once that permission has been withdrawn, which clearly it has by Sophie asking him to leave, Lorenzo has no legal right to remain.

What action could Sophie take?

It would be worthwhile for Sophie to report her complaint to the police, although the likelihood is that they would regard her situation as a ‘civil matter’ at the moment. (If Sophie is in immediate danger she should contact the police).

A legal letter could be written to Lorenzo telling him that he was no longer legally permitted to live in the flat and requiring him to leave within a specified, but short, time: say three days.

If that did not have the desired effect, Sophie would have two options. She could apply to the courts for:

  • An emergency court order that Lorenzo should be required to leave the flat within a short time  

and/or

  • A court injunction that Lorenzo be forbidden to assault or threaten her. 

Summary

These are very difficult times for everybody. However, the law still applies and the courts are functioning, even if in a different way.

There is no reason why anyone in a domestic situation should feel disadvantaged if they are being treated badly.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, or have other concerns about the impact of Coronavirus, please contact Sue Ellingham, Rachael Shearmur or Pippa Allsopp in Michelmores' Family team.

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This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Please contact our specialist lawyers to discuss any issues you are facing.