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Do rioters deserve to be evicted?

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The rioting and looting which swept across many of our major cities last week has now ended but the debate about how to deal with the perpetrators is likely to be ongoing for some time. People are calling for the rioter’s benefits to be scrapped and also for their landlords to take action to evict them.

The question most people are asking is whether social and private landlords are going to be entitled to evict people for these actions? The answer is not straightforward.

Most tenancy agreements specify that a tenant can be evicted for committing anti-social behaviour, referred to as nuisance and annoyance in the relevant sections of the Housing Acts 1985 and 1988 and or committing an indictable offence. However the activity usually has to take place in the locality of the rental property and what constitutes locality is likely to come under much scrutiny.

The relevant grounds for an eviction would be Ground 2 of Schedule 2 of Housing Act 1985 (for secure, Council tenants) or Ground 14 Schedule 2 Housing Act 1988 (for assured, housing association tenants).

These grounds are discretionary which means the Judge can consider the specific facts of each case and decide whether it would be reasonable to allow possession and eventually eviction. The Judge can also suspend or postpone possession orders and give the tenant an opportunity to comply with their tenancy agreement in the future.

Rioting and looting is definitely going to be considered by the courts as nuisance or annoyance and it is already clear that Courts are convicting people for this activity. However whether landlords are going to be able to rely on the activity and the conviction to secure evictions remains to be determined by District Judges sitting in County Courts

The Judge will need to consider whether the activity took place in the locality and whether the specific facts in that case make it reasonable to order possession.

The judge will consider the seriousness of the offence, its effect on others and whether further offences are likely to be committed. However, he or she will also consider the tenant’s personal circumstances, such as whether they have any children who are likely to be affected, whether they have previously been good tenants, whether this is their first offence and how long they have lived in the property. 

The Courts will still need to have consideration to Article 6, the right to a fair trial and Article 8, the right to a private and family life of the European Convention of Human Rights.

People should be aware that landlords can take action even if the tenant themselves were not actually involved in the rioting or looting. If their children or another member of the household was involved this may be sufficient. 

There are calls to scrap the ‘locality’ specification or to make anti-social behaviour a mandatory ground for possession. This is likely to be met by much resistance from legal practitioners and human rights groups. If removed it would appear to give landlords a blanket right to bring possession proceedings against their tenant for committing any offence regardless of whether it related to the property and their home or not.

Should any tenant find themselves being targeted for eviction due to their direct or indirect involvement in rioting or looting they should seek legal advice immediately. They will usually be entitled to Public Funding to defend the proceedings.