No magic solution
Proposals to make it easier to evict anti-social tenants are unlikely to work, says Angela Jack, barrister at Five Paper
The government is set to publish its final proposals for a new mandatory ground for possession, meant to make it quicker for landlords to evict tenants for serious, housing-related, anti-social behaviour. Landlords and the neighbours of anti-social tenants will welcome anything that speeds up possession proceedings in ASB cases, but will the proposal achieve this?
The Communities and Local Government department says that, on average, it takes more than seven months for a claim to be concluded. That figure may appear surprisingly low to many landlords. In last year’s consultation, the CLG listed such reasons for delays as ‘multiple adjournments, for example, because defendants don’t turn up or turn up unrepresented, or because further evidence is required, or there are difficulties in finding court time for a trial which may last over a day’.
The document goes on: ‘This is particularly frustrating in cases where housing-related anti-social behaviour has been previously proved in another court.’
To tackle this, the proposed ground could be used in cases where ‘serious housing-related conduct’ has been found proved by another court, including:
- a conviction for a serious housing-related offence in the locality of the property or between neighbours;
- a proved breach of an anti-social behaviour injunction; or
- the tenant’s home has been closed by magistrates; either a ‘crack house’ closure order or due to persistent disorder or nuisance.
Removing ‘reasonable’ ground
The new procedure would remove the requirement for landlords to show that it is reasonable to make a possession order. In theory, the court would have to grant an order for possession so long as the landlord has served a notice, followed the correct procedure and provided evidence of the conduct already proved. However, it seems unlikely that this will operate as smoothly as the government hopes.
First, a notice under the new ground could not be served until a conviction has been obtained. What is more, there will be a delay before a claim can be issued, to allow the tenant to request an internal review of the landlord’s decision.
The CLG acknowledges that, following the cases of Pinnock and Powell, tenants could argue that evicting them would be disproportionate under the Human Rights Act 1998. Recent experience suggests that landlords can also expect public law and Equality Act challenges, all of which could lead to lengthy trials.
Further, judges are likely to be particularly keen to ensure that defendants are given every opportunity for proper legal representation in cases where the court may be left with no discretion but to make a possession order. Delays caused by lack of court time and for legal aid decisions are likely to increase as cuts begin to bite.
The CLG states ‘in some parts of the country, current arrangements work well and applications for possession are determined expeditiously’.
Perhaps the government’s efforts would have been better spent on discovering what those arrangements are, and replicating them across the country, rather than introducing yet more piecemeal legislation.