Coronavirus (COVID-19)—social landlord takes enforcement action against antisocial tenant

Coronavirus (COVID-19)—social landlord takes enforcement action against antisocial tenant

Original news

Coronavirus (COVID-19)—Landlord obtains urgent injunction against tenant for hosting large gatherings. LNB News 30/03/2020 54.

Housing association Mosscare St Vincent’s has taken legal action against a tenant who hosted parties for up to 20 people at their home, in breach of government guidelines on social distancing to tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The terms of the injunction prohibit the tenant from allowing visitors to the property, except for their children, until the government officially lifts its guidelines.

What was the background to the application?

The case originally involved general antisocial behaviour taking place at one property within a block of flats in the Manchester area. The case had been under investigation for around 12 months prior to the application, with the landlord having attempted to curtail the behaviour by way of non-legal interventions including verbal and written warnings.

The immediate neighbours were regularly disturbed by loud parties, the smell of cannabis emanating from the flat in question and large numbers of people coming and going from the flat day and night. There had also been anonymous allegations of fights taking place outside the block between groups of males and suspected drug dealing.

Following the government announcement on 23 March 2020 that the country would be placed under tight restrictions in respect of social and physical distancing, the tenant in question did not adhere to the guidelines. He continued to allow high numbers of visitors to attend the property and continued to host large parties.

Several neighbouring residents within the block were elderly with underlying health conditions. Their safety was being compromised by the ongoing behaviour of one tenant allowing large numbers of visitors to come and go. Some of the visitors involved would also congregate in the communal hallways and urinate, spit and litter within those areas. The behaviour was causing harassment, alarm and distress to neighbouring residents.

What powers did the Court use to grant the application?

The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (ABCPA 2014), Part 1—Injunctions. This provides the court with the power to grant an injunction if two conditions are met. The first is that on the balance of probabilities, the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in antisocial behaviour. The second is that the court considers it just and convenient to grant the injunction for the purpose of preventing the respondent from engaging in antisocial behaviour. This part of the legislation allows social landlords, councils and the police (amongst others) to deal with issues of antisocial behaviour flexibly, quickly and effectively.

The injunction granted provided that the tenant in question must refrain from behaving in certain ways, including that he must not allow any visitors to attend at the property, save for his children, until such time that the government guidelines on social and physical distancing in relation to coronavirus were officially lifted.

The injunction also included a clause prohibiting the use or threatened use of violence towards anybody within the block and this particular clause had attached to it a power of arrest, meaning that in the event of breach, the tenant can be immediately arrested by the police and produced before a civil judge to be dealt with. Breaches are dealt with in accordance with the sentencing guidelines for breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. Penalty for such a breach ranges from a fine to two years imprisonment.

Were other powers considered (including criminal powers)?

At the time the application was made, the Coronavirus Act 2020 (CA 2020) had not received Royal Assent and the police could not exercise their powers under the legislation. It was anticipated that in any event, the new police powers would not act as a deterrent towards the tenant or his acquaintances given the persistent nature of the behaviour and their attitude towards it.

What special arrangements were made to expediate the hearing, and what evidence was relied upon?

The application was made on an ex parte basis due to concerns for the safety of other residents living within the block. The court allowed the application to be issued electronically by email and the hearing took place by telephone the same day. Following the hearing, the court sealed the applicant’s draft order and emailed it back across to me for service. The applicant also utilised an electronic signature for the housing management witness statement because their offices are currently closed.

Do you foresee further such applications during the coronavirus crisis?

Yes. Since the implementation of the CA 2020, social landlords have been inundated with complaints relating to antisocial behaviour.

Following the implementation of the new guidance and legislation, social landlords are now restricted in terms of recovering possession of properties which are involved in serious antisocial behaviour. New notices seeking possession must now provide antisocial tenants with three months’ notice, when they previously could have issued proceedings in those circumstances immediately.

The courts have also now adjourned most ongoing possession cases for a period of 12 weeks in accordance with the new guidance, meaning that cases that had progressed towards trial or resolution are now on hold. This in itself has brought about a new wave of antisocial behaviour, with tenants who may have improved their behaviour previously during the course of possession proceedings now reacting to the news of the lengthy adjournment / delay by reverting to behaving entirely unacceptably.

In turn, this means that social landlords are now having to rely more heavily upon the powers contained within the ABCPA 2014 to deal with increased levels of antisocial behaviour within communities. Social distancing rules are continuing to be breached, with reports frequently being received of parties, large gatherings, barbecues etc. Increased tensions within neighbourhoods because of the current pandemic has led to a large increase in disturbances and unrest.

I expect to see an ongoing influx of antisocial behaviour cases over the course of the pandemic and I am already receiving heightened enquiries nationally. Thankfully, as one of the largest Social Housing and Regeneration teams in the Country, we are well placed to respond to this and have effective systems in place to respond to heightened demand for legal services.

Interviewed by Sabina Habib

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