Landlords dealing with anti-social tenants should be aware of major changes in possession proceedings brought about by the implementation of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (the Act). Most notably, the Act puts in place a new mandatory ground for possession, aimed at expediting possession claims where anti-social behaviour or criminality have already been established by another court. Unlike the existing discretionary grounds for possession, there is no obligation on the landlord to prove to the Court that it is reasonable to grant possession when relying on this new ground.
Prior to the Act’s implementation, processes for evicting anti-social tenants were often drawn-out and lengthy in addition to being expensive for both landlords and the courts. This led to prolonged suffering of victims, communities and witnesses to such behaviour. Ground 7A of Part 5 of the Act introduces a new mandatory ground for possession, broken down into five separately specified conditions; in effect, five additional mandatory grounds are in place which can be relied on either alone, or in conjunction with another of the five new grounds.
The test encapsulating the five grounds is summarised by the Home Office in their guidance on the Act as follows:
“The tenant, a member of the tenant’s household, or a person visiting the property has met one of the following conditions:
Convicted of a serious offence (specified in Schedule 2A to the Housing Act 1985);
Found by a Court to have breached a civil injunction;
Convicted for breaching a criminal behaviour order (CBO);
Convicted for breaching a noise abatement notice; or
The tenant’s property has been closed for more than 48 hours under a closure order for anti-social behaviour.”
Each of the conditions under 7A relate to a previous criminal offence or civil proceedings, against the tenant, a member of their household or a visitor to the property. If the Court is satisfied by any one of the five sub-grounds, it shall make an order for possession. It will be unable to exercise normal statutory powers to adjourn the claim, postpone the possession date, or stay or postpone execution of the possession order. If an order for possession is made under Ground 7A, the Court cannot use its general powers to delay actually giving possession for any more than 14 days after the order is made, or, in cases or exceptional hardship, for a maximum of 42 days.
The Act dictates that the offence or breach as set out above must have occurred in the ‘locality’ of the property, have affected a person with a right to live in the property, or affected the landlord or his staff or contractors. Locality is not defined. The landlord is required to give written notice of the proceedings to the tenant, within 12 months of the relevant conviction or proceedings, or within three months where the tenant’s property has been closed under a closure order. Amongst other factors, the notice must inform the tenant of the landlord’s reasons for seeking possession, details of the relevant conviction and ground upon which possession is being sought.
It is worth noting that tenants are entitled to a court hearing, and have a statutory right to request a review of the possession sought under Ground 7A. A tenant seeking a review of the decision must make a request in writing within 7 days of the service of the notice seeking possession. The local authority/social landlord must then review that decision and notify the tenant in writing of its final decision and, if it confirms the original decision, give written reasons.
The implications of the new provisions of the Act are multi-fold. Firstly, better protection will now be afforded to victims and witnesses of anti-social behaviour, facilitating faster relief. Court time and costs, in addition to landlord costs, will be dramatically reduced; the fact that landlords are not required to prove that it is reasonable to grant possession means that a court is far more likely to determine cases in a single, shorter hearing. Additional flexibility is also afforded to landlords via this tool for dealing with consistently anti-social tenants.
Landlords should be aware, however, that this new provision is intended to be used for only the most severe and persistent cases of criminal or anti-social behaviour. As stated in the Home Office Guidance on the Act, landlords “should ensure that the ground is used selectively,” and only in the most serious cases of anti-social behaviour.
Whichever approach a landlord takes to anti-social behaviour in tenants, it is important that their management policies reflect their stance, and also that these are properly and sufficiently publicised and circulated amongst the tenant’s estate, in particular in relation to existing tenants. This is to avoid the possibility of an existing tenant challenging the decision to evict on one or more of the new grounds on the basis that its existing tenancy conditions did not take into account the changes in the law.
DJB have a full team of highly experienced, senior litigation lawyers, who can offer extensive advice on these new provisions, and their effect on institutional landlords, local authorities and housing associations. The firm is ranked in the Top Tier by the Legal 500 directory and is rated as a leading firm in London and the South West for property litigation.
For further information, or to make an enquiry, please contact the firm’s Managing Director, Madeleine Davitt, on 0344 880 8000, or by email at Madeleine.Davitt@djblaw.co.uk.