Power to the social landlord?

Anti-social behaviour can make people’s lives a misery – it covers a wide range of nuisances, crimes and behaviours and so there are often various agencies involved in tackling it.

New powers that social landlords have to deal with anti-social behaviour are wide-ranging, given the introduction of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which was given Royal Assent in March 2014 and came into force in May 2014.

The act has been implemented to introduce more effective powers to tackle anti-social behaviour in a bid to provide better protection for victims and communities. This includes the community trigger, which will give local residents the ability to ask for a review into how social housing providers, as well as Police and councils have handled reports of anti-social behaviour. For the purposes of the trigger, anti-social behaviour is defined as behaviour causing harassment, alarm or distress to a member, or members of the public.

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 will also:

  • tackle irresponsible dog ownership and the use of illegal firearms by gangs and organised criminal groups
  • strengthen the protection afforded to the victims of forced marriage and those at risk of sexual harm
  • enhance the professional capabilities and integrity of the police
  • amend the port and border security powers in Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, to ensure that they strike the right balance between the need to protect public safety and the protection of individual freedoms
  • amend the Extradition Act 2003 to strengthen public confidence in, and the operational effectiveness of, our extradition arrangements

For the benefit of this article we will specifically examine the powers that social landlords have at their disposal to deal with anti-social behaviour in tenants and how such behaviour impacts on housing association providers.

Any landlord, social or private, knows that renting out property comes with a risk. Incidents of anti-social behaviour are on the increase, therefore that risk for a landlord is now greater than ever before.

Tenants can create all sorts of costly conundrums for landlords; they may fall into arrears, or leave properties in a state of disrepair and increasingly, social landlords are experiencing property damage as a result of drug cultivation.

We recently acted on behalf of a social landlord in bringing an action against a tenant to gain possession of the rented property that was being used to cultivate cannabis. The Police had forced entry to the property after receiving complaints from other members of the community. A significant number of cannabis plants were discovered and the housing association reported extensive damage including the roof being stripped out. The cost to repair was in excess of £40,000.

In this case, possession proceedings were brought against the tenant on the basis that they were using the property for illegal purposes, which was in breach of the terms of his tenancy agreement. The tenant claimed the drugs were for his personal use. However the Court gave an order for possession given that the tenant had clearly breached the terms of the tenancy agreement, and the housing association’s policy on anti social behaviour was successfully enforced.

With an increase in cases like this, it’s in the Courts hands to recognise and enforce orders for possession when serious breaches to tenancy agreements occur.

As this example demonstrates, the financial cost in dealing with anti-social behaviour and criminal activity can be excessive so it is important that steps are taken to prevent tenants from being able to engage in criminal activities. Social landlords would be well-advised to send a clear message to tenants that such behaviour will not be tolerated and will result in eviction.

Social landlords should also involve members of the community in their efforts to crack down on these types of tenants. On a local basis, this can be done by introducing a reporting policy if there are signs of criminal or anti-social behaviour taking place. Reports and evidence can be given anonymously if necessary and if the housing association enforces and acts on the complaints, other tenants are more likely to report in the future.

The community trigger which will come into force this month will also enforce the community aspect, given that this will allow concerned residents to question and call for a review of how complaints have been handled.

Social landlords should also step up door to door inspections and ensure that empty properties are well-secured to prevent them being used for such activity. ID should be checked carefully when arranging tenancies and extra procedures can be implemented such as visitor car registration logs. 

Most housing associations regulate anti-social behaviour through the terms of the tenancy agreement. If a tenant breaches a clause relating to anti-social behaviour or illegal use of the property, the social housing provider is well within their rights to end the tenancy. An order for possession can be granted from the Court to evict problem tenants or in less serious cases, an injunction may be obtained and then used later as a basis for eviction if the injunction is breached.

In some circumstances if there has been an allegation of a serious use or threatened use of violence, these injunctions can be granted on an emergency basis, often with wide-reaching restrictions on the individual and even the option to attach a Power of Arrest so the person can be arrested and brought back to Court within 24 hours if allegations are made that they have in some way breached the injunction.

Typically anti-social behaviour injunctions will prevent a person from causing a nuisance to others or threatening and using violence. However, they will often go further, preventing the person from contacting other individuals in any way or even excluding the person from a specific area.

When it is alleged the tenant has acted in breach of the ASBI, the Police will arrest them and they will be brought before the District Judge within 24 hours. Often this means that the person is detained in custody overnight before the hearing the next day. If the Judge concludes that the defendant has breached the injunction they will be in contempt of court and can be given a custodial sentence of up to two years imprisonment.

The ideal conclusion for any housing association that is dealing with tenants who are found to be using the property for criminal activity is sure to be eviction. The new legislation recognises that more tools need to be given to social landlords in order to tackle this growing problem. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides absolute grounds for possession where a tenant has committed a serious offence which is considered to be of anti-social nature.

Social landlords do not need to tolerate such behaviour and tenants can be evicted quickly to avoid further damage to the property. A Section 8 notice can be served where a tenant has breached the terms of the tenancy agreement and has used the property for illegal or immoral purposes.

Housing associations can protect themselves by enforcing strict provisions and policies relating to such behaviours and outlining the situations in which they would evict a tenant.

ENDS

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Media information: Sarah Boustouller, Stephensons Solicitors LLP, Tel: 01942 774081, Email: sbo@stephensons.co.uk