Housing

Stephensons has a nationally recognised housing law team. Clients include tenants, local authorities and social housing landlords. Stephensons has significant experience in work involving challenges to housing authority policy, disrepair and possession cases and advisory/regulatory function.

Stephensons’ specialists regularly appear in court in proceedings representing local authorities and housing associations in housing litigation. This litigation experience includes ASBO and ASBI cases. Stephensons has a specialist quality mark from the Legal Aid Agency for Housing work.

The specialists in the housing law team are regularly advising social housing landlords and private landlords on regulation and good practice as well as a providing number of training and CPD courses to clients. We have been instructed by panel members of the North West consortium of local authorities.

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Our areas of specialism include

  • Anti-social behaviour possession orders
  • Anti-social behaviour injunctions
  • Possession proceedings
  • Advice on tenancy agreements
  • Shared ownership disputes
  • Defending disrepair proceedings
  • Training and seminars
  • Access warrants and injunctions
  • Tenancy management
  • Leaseholder advice
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Stephensons Solicitors LLP’s broad practice also benefits from the firm’s large childcare team. Donna Roberts handles child protection matters for local authorities and Philip Richardson frequently advises local authorities on employment issues.
Legal 500, 2016

1) Anti-social behaviour injunctions (ASBI’s) and anti-social behaviour possession orders

Our team is experienced in dealing with a wide range of breaches to anti-social behaviour terms and policies implemented by several local authorities which we act on behalf of. In these instances, we have dealt with a range of issues including possession proceedings, anti-social behaviour injunctions and anti-social behaviour orders.

Most local authorities regulate anti-social behaviour through the terms of the tenancy agreement. Breaching clauses relating to anti-social behaviour and illegal use of property means a tenancy can be ended. An Order for Possession can be granted from the court to assist in evicting problem tenants. In less serious cases an Injunction can be obtained and used as a basis for evictions later if it is breached.

Case study

We recently acted for a local authority in relation to anti-social behaviour with resulted in extensive damage to the property. A tenant was subjected to domestic violence which subsequently resulted in damage to the property also. The local authority instructed us to obtain an injunction against the defendant to exclude him from entering any area within the vicinity of where the property was located. In this instance we assisted the housing association in obtaining an anti-social behaviour injunction order from the court to prevent further damage to the property, and further violence against the tenant. The order was supported by powers of arrest.

We also assist local authorities to obtain injunctions where a breach to the anti-social behaviour policy may not be sufficient to obtain possession. This can be advantageous given that it is granted quickly and acts as a deterrent to tenants against committing further breaches. If breached the anti-social behaviour injunction makes possession of the property easier. Where there is a serious or persistent breach we assist and advise on obtaining anti-social behaviour possession orders based on the nature and extensive damage occurred by the breach. Our team has acted on the behalf of several housing associations where this has been necessary due to illegal use of the property.

We have acted for a local authority who was experiencing several issues with tenants using the property for drug cultivation. Police had attended the property following several complaints from other tenants within the community which resulted in over 90 cannabis plants being ceased and the tenants arrested. We assisted the local authority in obtaining an order for possession given the severity of the breach of the tenancy agreement.

We have acted for several social landlords recently who are experiencing this form of anti-social behaviour and our team has extensive knowledge and experience in how to assist landlords in preventing the problem including advice on what to look out for, and assisting in the event that a tenant is found to be cultivating drugs, or having committed any other anti-social behaviour breaches.

Our team operates a ‘out of hours’ service to assist in enforcements at any point should a client require our urgent assistance in enforcing an anti-social behaviour injunction.  

2) Disrepair

Stephensons have extensive experience in assisting housing a ssociations defending disrepair claims made by tenants. We have assisted many housing associations in numerous claims for compensation for such repairs and have seen excellent results for our clients.

Disrepair claims can be lengthy, costly and are often brought spuriously. Stephensons take a commercial approach and steer cases to early resolution where possible.

Case study

We assisted in defending a claim where a tenant was claiming in excess of £20,000 for failures to make repairs on the property. The housing association had in fact carried out several works in relation to extinguishing the cause of the damage in question, but the works were structural and complex and had taken time to resolve. The inclusion of a clear worded policy on compensation claims resulted in the claim being settled swiftly for minimal cost and expense.

We are able to assist housing associations on the construction of disrepair policies to ensure they are protected against large claims from tenants and can achieve positive outcomes.

The team are highly experienced in defending claims of disrepair generally and have acted on the behalf of a large housing association of numerous occasions where tenants had brought claims for disrepair.

3) Housing management legal services

In addition to acting on the behalf of housing associations in disputes we have had a lot of experience in offering advice to housing associations to enable them to manage their property portfolio in an effective way. We have worked with several large housing associations running training seminars on changes to legislation and providing e-updates by way of newsletter to ensure housing associations are well informed to the legal changes they may affect them.

In addition, we are able to assist housing associations with legal issues such as their obligations as to health and safety. Specifically we have assisted in obtaining access for such reasons and have proceeded to obtain injunctions and possession proceedings where tenants have breached the tenancy agreement terms regarding health and safety. Landlords have specific duties to the health and safety and upkeep of their properties and so our experience in such cases can be valuable.

We have offered advice with managing the changes to the recent welfare reforms. Housing associations have been significantly impacted due to these changes and Stephensons specialist solicitors have assisted several housing associations in being ready to deal with the changes. We have advised on managing properties and tenancies to ensure that housing associations remain effective in their business as registered providers.

The team have assisted in the management of eviction policies and reviewing tenancy agreements so that registered providers are ensuring they have the most effective terms and policies in place.

4) Injunctions

The team regularly assist local authorities and housing associations in obtaining injunctions where tenants have refused access to the properties for the purpose of gas safety checks. It is a statutory requirement and in the interest of health and safety for tenants and the landlord that such checks are allowed to take place. We advise housing associations that it is made clear in the tenancy agreement of this requirement and the possible sanctions for failing to comply with such terms. We have assisted in applying for injunctions as well as possession orders given the extreme nature of such a breach.

This was a positive result given the extreme nature in which gas safety checks are. The tenant, by refusing access to the property, was not only putting the property in danger of significant damage, but also their own and fellow tenants’ lives at risk.

5) Leasehold valuation tribunals

We have experience in all stages of leasehold valuation tribunals in disputes between housing associations and tenants. We have acted for a large housing association where tenants were disputing the service charge. In addition, we assisted the housing association in drafting a s.20 consultation with the respect to works that the housing association intended to carry out.

We assisted a housing association in defending a large claim being brought by a large number of residents of a shared ownership apartment block. The issue arose where the claimants disputed the cost of works done to the property in that it was unnecessary and contrary to what was agreed in the consultation process. The claim was for a breach of s.20 in that the housing association had overspent considerably. The claims were disputed in that throughout the consultation period the members did not oppose the works and they were notified throughout. In addition, the residents claimed for a lack of repairs to the exterior of the property.

Our team assisted in mediation between the parties which concluded in a settlement agreement.

6) Shared ownership disputes

We understand that housing associations want to protect their interests in a property in which they share ownership, should a dispute arise. We can assist in ensuring that landlords do not have their interest diminished and do not incur excessive costs in protecting what is partly theirs. We have assisted in several cases where a dispute has arisen due to extensive damage to the property. We have obtained possession orders in respect of the shared ownership property where the damage has been extremely serious and has given rise to an action to ensure the housing associations equity is protected.

Case study

A housing association had entered into an assured tenancy with a tenant over a property in which they both held shared ownership. This housing association contacted Stephensons requiring assistance with extreme damage that had occurred to the property which was valued at a cost of £15,000 and above. The damage included the removal of floor boards, plaster, ceilings and walls with the result that the property was stripped back to its original shell. The tenant appeared to be suffering from mental health problems and was offered several avenues of assistance however this was rejected and further damage occurred. The housing association was particularly worried given that the property was one of several terraced properties and there was a structural risk due to the damage. A court order for possession was obtained which was a successful outcome for the housing association however the costs were considerably high and the housing association was unable to repair the property.

The damage to the property was extremely serious and a court order for possession was proportionate in order to attempt to preserve the landlord’s interest in the property.

7) Tenancy agreements

Many registered providers come to us to review their current tenancy agreements and to obtain advice as to the best type of tenancy to offer. Our specialist solicitors have drafted numerous tenancy agreements for starter tenancies through to periodic and assured agreements. Different housing associations experience a range of issues and no one standard agreement will suit all. We can assist in drafting specific terms which relate to the specific issues that housing associations are currently experiencing. 

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As an award-winning top 150 law firm, with over 450 staff based in offices across the country, you're never far from the advice you need.