Comment: Will Landlords Really Evict Anti-Social Tenants In Two Weeks?

“Renters at risk under plans to let landlords evict tenants with two weeks notice,” says one headline.

Yes, it kind of implies that tenants will be summarily evicted, I thought so when I first read it. As the recent press reports would have us believe, but this is not going to be possible, given the way the system works at the moment…

The Government has announced a Plan to get tough on unruly tenants, to increase landlords’ rights to make it easier and quicker to evict anti-social tenants. Some press reports have even included damage to the property and rent arrears as part of the Plan.

But is this just a “sweetener” for landlords in view of the pending Renter’s Reform Bill, legislation that will hand out considerably more powers to tenants, and the big question is, how will it actually work out in practice?

The Plan

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Anti-social Behaviour Action Plan unveiled last week has the laudable aim of cracking down on antisocial behaviour generally. It aims to “make sure anti-social behaviour is treated with the urgency it deserves,” and to roll out new “immediate justice” so that perpetrators can be made to “swiftly clean up their own mess, … giving communities more of a say over, and more visibility of, reparation.”

For landlords there are plans to introduce a new property ombudsman, reduce the notice period for all anti-social behaviour-related evictions to two weeks and presumably make it much easier to navigate the eviction process for troublesome tenants.

Repair the damage

The plan says that perpetrators will be made to repair the damage they inflicted on victims and communities, with the ambition of reparative work starting within 48 hours of them being given a disposal by the police. They will have to clean up graffiti and pick litter, even wash police cars, while wearing jumpsuits or high-vis vests, and under supervision of course.

Well, I’ll believe that when I see it!

With the increased incidence of self-reported acts of anti-social behaviour (as opposed a decline in police reported incidents), landlords and law-abiding tenants would clearly benefit from such stronger action by the police. And a change in the law, with real punitive systems to make sure that perpetrators are dealt with swiftly and effectively, would clearly be welcomed by everyone.

Yes, these changes would clearly be welcomed but forgive the cynicism; just how effective will these changes be? I want to be positive and I would like to think they will be very effective. But we all know, we’ve all heard the stories, and many of us have experienced it for ourselves, police action, police effectiveness, is not what was!

Landlord-tenant issues, even those bordering on the criminal, are invariably treated as civil matters, something the police are not generally interested in. As the police will tell you, they have a strict hierarchy of priorities: terrorism, knife and gun crime, sexual offending, domestic abuse and safeguarding vulnerable people from predatory behaviour.

I’m afraid that things like house breaking, vehicle theft and landlord-tenant issues (unless they involve violence) come way down on this list, and as the police constantly tell us themselves, as they claim, they just don’t have the resources.

Speed up the court system

“We will seek to halve the delay between a private landlords serving notice for anti-social behaviour and eviction and broaden the disruptive and harmful activities that can lead to eviction. We will also provide a clear expectation previous anti-social behaviour offenders are de-prioritised for social housing,” says the Plan.

But we all know, again, our slimed down county court system is overwhelmed, still recovering from the Covid pandemic backlog, generally it can take more than six months to evict a tenant, and that’s using Section 21, which is to be abolished.

Even a Parliament committee says that, “The Government risks undermining its own proposed tenancy reforms, include the banning of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, unless it fixes delays in the court system.”

This really does have the potential for the Government’s plans on rental reform to collapse into chaos!

A central pillar of Housing Secretary Michael Gove’s Renter’s Reform Bill is a plan to prevent unfair evictions. Without the Section 21 process this implies a test of fairness which involves a court hearing – a test of fairness in front of a county court judge, somewhat juxtaposing the Plan for speedy or summary evictions?

Who says its anti-social behaviour?

The Plan aims to speed up eviction times for perpetrators of anti-social behaviour but just how is this to be defined, surely this is open to wide wide interpretation. Will warnings be given first, if so how many, will the police really have the power to both enforce the law as well as meat out punishment?

A difficult process

Securing an eviction for anti-social behaviour has always been, up to now at least, a difficult process. The courts want good evidence and that’s often hard to gather. Police crime reports are helpful, as are witness statements from neighbours. But neighbours are often reluctant to help, even when it is happening to them, because of the fear of reprisals. They expect the landlord to intervene.

Success usually lies at the end of a long protracted process of keeping diary entries of incidents, collecting police reports and any witness reports you are lucky enough to get, going to court and convincing a judge – it can take months or even years!

The courts will always be careful about depriving tenants of a roof over their heads, they will err on the side of caution and resist evictions wherever possible, often simply giving warnings and a second chance.

Where would you draw the line?

Noisy tenants – and that’s probably the biggest cause of complaints – can drive neighbours and landlords to distraction. Having parties, playing loud music at in appropriate times as well as running washing machines overnight, or loud walking and banging from floors above, all constitute unreasonable and anti-social behaviour, but are they serious enough for summary eviction – somehow I doubt that.

The rules already exist for dealing with anti-social tenants and I can’t see that changing – it means going to court, so unless the behaviour is criminal and the police can deal with it quicker – don’t hold your breath – we’re stuck with what we already have.

Defining anti-social behaviour

To obtain an eviction you must show that the person’s behaviour is a “persistent pattern of anti-social behaviour,” generally falling into one of the following categories:

verbal abuse harassment because of gender, race, disability or sexuality violence or threats of violence systematic bullying and/or intimidation a pattern noise creation dumping rubbish vandalism, damage to property and graffiti. Inappropriate parking Not controlling pets Persistent behaviour – therein lies the rub: one or two occasions may not constitute an issue, it must be occurring multiple times, but then the question of how often arises, and the seriousness of the event would also have to be taken into account. It’s a very complex issue not easily solved or dealt with quickly.

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