The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has recently called on the UK government to “beef up” its plans to tackle anti-social behaviour, saying that it is a major issue for landlords and tenants and that the government needs to do more to address it.
While the NRLA were encouraged by broad agreement on the need for more effective ways to deal with anti-social behaviour, Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of NRLA, wrote to housing minister Felicity Buchan to outline the steps the Government should take so landlords can have confidence in the proposed system, saying it must:
- Require the courts to prioritise possession cases in instances of anti-social behaviour
- Produce statutory guidance on ‘low-level’ anti-social behaviour and the circumstances in which it is reasonable to grant possession
- Require local authority and police action on anti-social behaviour to be recorded on the Property Portal
- Implement the recommendations of the Victims Commissioner’s 2019 report on anti-social behaviour
- Require local authorities and the police to report annually on their work to address statutory nuisance and anti-social behaviour
- Allow private landlords to apply for ‘demotion orders’, enabling a court, at its discretion, to end a tenancy where a tenant’s conduct is ‘capable’ of causing a nuisance – something currently used in the social sector
An NRLA survey recently revealed that half of landlords had to repossess a property because of the anti-social or criminal behaviour of a tenant. Out of those surveyed, 67% said that they had struggled to collect evidence while 83% claimed they received no assistance from their local authority.
NRLA, the UK's largest membership organisation for private residential landlords representing over 100,000 members, says that Government plans to end Section 21 repossessions will mean landlords must be reliant on convictions to tackle problem tenants, which could lead to several issues and delays to the effective resolution of anti-social behaviour, especially in HMOs, where the long term effects of anti-social behaviour are greater.
What is Section 21 and when will it be abolished?
Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 is a law in the UK that allows landlords to evict tenants without a specific reason, commonly known as a "no-fault" eviction. According to Government figures, Section 21 notices served by landlords in 2021/22 led to 20,000 evictions in England, up from 9,000 in the year before.
In April 2019, the UK government launched a consultation on abolishing Section 21. The consultation period ended on 12 October 2019, and the government has since published its response to the consultation, expressing its intention to abolish Section 21, but it has not yet introduced legislation to make this happen.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted the government's plans to abolish Section 21. In March 2020, the government introduced emergency legislation to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic. The legislation included a temporary ban on Section 21 evictions during the pandemic. This ban was extended several times and was in place until 31 May 2021.
The forthcoming Renters' Reform Bill is expected to include the abolition of Section 21, but it has not yet been introduced to Parliament and there is no definitive timeline for its enactment. It is believed by many that it will be formally legislated in 2023.
How does UK law define anti-social behaviour?
In the UK, the definition of anti-social behaviour (ASB) is not clearly defined in a single law. Instead, it is defined in various laws and policies that apply to different types of behaviour and situations.
The UK government's official definition of ASB is "any conduct that has caused or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to any person". This definition is broad and can include a range of behaviours, such as noise disturbances, drug dealing, vandalism, and violence.
There are several laws and policies in the UK that address ASB, including the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, the Housing Act 1996, and the Public Order Act 1986. These laws provide authorities with powers to address different types of ASB, such as noise nuisance, environmental crime, and disorderly behaviour.
Under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, local authorities and police have several powers to deal with ASB, including the ability to issue community protection notices, dispersal orders, and civil injunctions. The Housing Act 1996 provides landlords with powers to take action against tenants who engage in ASB, including eviction.
In addition to these laws, there are also various government policies and initiatives aimed at tackling ASB, such as the Community Trigger, which allows victims of ASB to request a review of their case, and the Crime and Policing Toolkit, which provides guidance and support to local authorities and police in dealing with anti-social behaviour.
What are common forms of anti-social behaviour?
For it to be considered anti-social behaviour in the first place, it must be a persistent pattern. The most common forms of anti-social behaviour, according to the NRLA, include things like:
- Verbal abuse
- Harassment and discrimination
- Violence or the threats of violence
- Systematic intimidation or bullying
- Persistent noise
- Dumping rubbish
- Vandalism and damage to property
The persistent part is key, meaning that it must have occurred multiple times. If anti-social behaviour is a one-off event, it cannot be considered persistent and thus is harder to tackle. However, at least four events across a period of time can be considered persistent if, and only if, the anti-social behaviour is considered sufficiently serious.
What does this all mean for landlords?
Landlords should be mindful that they are not necessarily obliged to take action against tenants for breaching tenancy agreements through anti-social behaviour, and they’re not typically held responsible for problematic tenants.
However, landlords could be held responsible if they fail to take reasonable measures to address anti-social behaviour if it has been reported. It is therefore important for landlords to take anti-social matters seriously and prevent potential legal issues down the line.
Normally, landlords would be encouraged to seek assistance from local authorities or the police to handle such issues, but the NRLA makes the case that this course of action usually results in little more than a warning or a lengthy court process.
While eviction should be a last resort and landlords must serve a formal notice before considering it, experts warn that new government rules could mean that evicting tenants will be harder and the burden of proof greater, which could lead to significant delays.
It is believed that these delays will mean that the perpetrator of anti-social behaviour can remain in place while the evidence is collected and a case built, putting other tenants at risk of the effects of long-term anti-social behaviour, especially in HMOs, as the landlord’s hands are effectively tied.
“Anti-social behaviour in the private rented sector is often characterised by persistent, ‘low-level’ nuisance that falls below the threshold needed for action to be taken by police or local authorities,” said Ben Beadle. “It is nevertheless a significant issue for those living with it and the cumulative consequences of such behaviour should not be underestimated.”
As a result, landlords could potentially be fined or lose their HMO licence if they are unable to act on problem tenants, with the potential for other victims – the other tenants in the property or neighbours – to seek financial redress through the Property Ombudsman or the courts.
The best course of action for landlords is to weigh up their actions carefully, keep well-documented records of all forms of anti-social behaviour and consult legal advice if they feel they need to act.