From conviction to eviction
Proposed changes to possession grounds would be of no practical use, says Jane Plant, associate at Weightmans LLP
In the wake of the riots in England last month housing minister Grant Shapps tweeted: ‘I will back social landlords who evict tenants involved in any rioting’.
He has launched a consultation paper on the introduction of a new mandatory ground for possession based on convictions, even if the crime occurred away from the home. He has also further revised the scope of that consultation to amend the current discretionary ground for possession to allow discretionary eviction of those involved in damage to property, assaults or theft in relation to serious public disorder.
Many housing providers are therefore announcing that they will seek possession as punishment for tenants’ involvement in the riots and we are seeing tough sentences being handed down to rioters by the courts. But what can be done using current law and what difference will these proposals make in the future?
The main stumbling blocks to obtaining possession at present are:
- most rioting occurred away from housing estates and therefore the current requirement that the behaviour occurred in the ‘locality’ of the home cannot be met;
- if rioting was not somehow linked to the occupation of the home, is it reasonable to order possession?
Mr Shapps’ proposal is to circumvent the above problems by introducing a new mandatory ground for possession that would enable social landlords to obtain possession against tenants (including visitors and members of their household) convicted of a criminal offence anywhere.
The problem with this is that, following the case of Manchester Council v Pinnock, a tenant can raise issues of proportionality in any eviction case. This raises the question of whether there is such a thing as a true mandatory ground for possession.
There is also concern that having two grounds for possession available will lead to uncertainty and an increase in arguments in court as to whether is was right to choose the mandatory ground.
The driver behind Mr Shapps’ proposal is to make possession easier for those involved in serious crime where findings have already been made in another court. However, if Pinnock-style proportionality arguments are raised, possession cases are likely to take as long as those issued under the existing discretionary ground.
The issues regarding the Pinnock decision do not apply to the consultation amendment to allow discretionary eviction for ‘those involved in damage to property, assaults or theft in relation to serious public disorder’. This is because it remains a discretionary ground and therefore the court can consider whether it is reasonable to order possession. However the locality problem remains.
In conclusion, the current discretionary ground (or as it is proposed to be amended) does not deal with anti-social behaviour committed outside the ‘locality’ of the home, and the proposed mandatory ground is likely to be challenged on human rights and proportionality grounds. The proposals are well-intentioned but unlikely to be of practical use.