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Nuisance and anti-social behaviour

>> Anti-social behaviour: definition

Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is behaviour that causes or is likely to cause alarm, distress or harassment to one or more people not of the same household as the defendant and is of a serious and persistent nature.

Anti-social Behaviour is the umbrella term which includes causing nuisance, harassment, racial incidents, neighbour disputes and includes noise complaints.

>> Dealing with anti-social behaviour

Landlords may experience problems relating to anti-social behaviour either where their tenant is causing the problem or where the tenant is the victim of ASB.

Every day problems such as noise or lifestyle differences can usually be sorted out by mediation. Local authorities may be able to put landlords in touch with a local mediation service. These are usually operated by charitable organisations with services offered at no cost [see section 5.7.1 for information on mediation].

In serious or persistent cases where you are not able to resolve the problem for example:

  • Where there are threats or violence, or
  • Where the parties will not agree to mediation

You should contact the local authority’s Anti-Social Behaviour team or the police for assistance. Or alternatively you can seek to evict the tenant, preferably under the ‘no fault’ section 21 procedure [see section 6.2.6].

If the Tenant is the victim: They should keep an accurate record of the problem and events as they happen.

If the Tenant is behaving anti-socially: Landlords need evidence of anti-social behaviour in order to take action (unless they are using the section 21 eviction procedure). The nuisance has to be substantial and persistent, not just a one-off incident.

You should speak to the people complaining and gather evidence of names and addresses of people affected as well as dates/times/detail of incidents. Further supporting evidence may be sought from other neighbours and agencies such as the local authority’s environmental health services or the police who may also have received complaints.

Once the evidence has been gathered the landlord can take the appropriate action. This may initially just be talking to the tenant about the matter. If this doesn’t resolve the problem then the matter can be put to the tenant in writing. You can inform the tenant that as the landlord you have the legal right to obtain possession of the property if they can prove to a court that the tenant’s behaviour has created a nuisance to neighbours and that you intend to apply to the court if the matter is not resolved.

If landlords decide to bring this sort of claim, they should take care that their action cannot be construed as being discriminatory in anyway, and that they cannot be accused of racial or other harassment.

The option to pursue will be determined by the circumstances of the case. Dealing with neighbour disputes can have repercussions for the landlord/complainant and, therefore, it is important to seek legal advice.

>> Legal action against anti-social behaviour

If the matter does go to court in a claim based on anti-social behaviour grounds, it can take anything from under 6 months from the date they first notify the landlord to reach court, to a much longer period if it needs to go to a higher court on appeal. This has been made a little easier as the new procedures for housing possession cases in court are introduced in accordance with the Housing Act 1996 and Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003.

If the landlord takes action in the case of neighbour disputes the landlord is the claimant, the complainant may have to attend County Court as witness, perhaps a “Pre - Trial Review” (although unlikely), and possibly High Court and beyond, if an appeal is made by either party.

Therefore if a landlord has a tenant who is behaving in an anti-social manner, the best course of action is to bring a claim for possession under the ‘no fault’ section 21 procedure at the earliest opportunity.

This is cheaper and quicker and is also less likely to antagonise the tenant as you will not be citing any anti-social behaviour in your court proceedings which he will wish to dispute.

There is no defence to a properly drafted section 21 claim and so you will not be faced with the possibility of the judge deciding that the tenant needs a ‘second’ chance to improve his behaviour.

>> Action for possession for nuisance

In some county courts it is extremely difficult to obtain a suspended possession order or outright order for a claim based on nuisance.

A lot of evidence must be collected and presented sometimes witness statements are not enough.  However issuing a Notice of Seeking Possession (NSP) may increase the likelihood of later obtaining an injunction to stop the alleged nuisance.

Nuisance is a ‘discretionary’ ground for possession that means that the court does not have to agree to the landlord’s request to evict if it thinks the landlord is being unreasonable or can’t prove his case [See section 6.2 on possession].

If you wish to bring proceedings on this basis, it is advisable to liaise with the local authority’s ASB Unit for help and advice when taking possession action.

However again, it is frequently possible to avoid all these problems by simply bringing a claim for possession under the section 21 procedure. Unless the situation is so serious that it cannot wait, in which case you should take legal advice from a solicitor experienced in this type of work.

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