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Anti-social behaviour in blocks of flats and apartments can make life a misery for the other residents. Landlords can only regulate and control anti-social behaviour within the parameters of the lease but there are other types of remedies which may be more effective. There are several sanctions in place which a leaseholder can use to help manage and resolve anti-social behaviour.
Managing agents should expect complaints about anti-social behaviour from leaseholders and have a framework in place to deal with these and other actions which could constitute a nuisance. This should include a clear written procedure.
It can often be more effective if the leaseholder who is complaining takes any initial action themselves. The Managing Agents hands may be tied by the provisions of the lease and restrictions surrounding forfeiture.
What does the lease say about Anti-social behaviour?
Every lease will have a covenant that the leaseholder shall not cause nuisance or annoyance to other residents. Some leases will have quite specific detail about the acts which constitute a nuisance or anti-social behaviour, for instance, concerning noise or the use of domestic machinery.
Unless the lease has a clause that states the landlord will enforce the covenants of the lease then the landlord is under no obligation to take any action. If the landlord does enforce a covenant on behalf of one leaseholder against another then it is usually the case that any costs incurred may be recharged to the service charge account. This can cause problems with leaseholders not party to the original dispute who may raise objections.
It is difficult and expensive for the Managing Agent to enforce lease covenants to stop anti-social behaviour or nuisance and it can be more effective for the complainant to seek recourse via a different route and act in their own capacity. There are some simple practical steps which are often overlooked in favour of something more heavyweight; these can be the easiest and most effective way to deal with anti-social behaviour, avoiding costs or relying on the lease to invoke a covenant. This can also prevent the dispute from escalating.
What are the practical steps?
Many complaints surround the issue of noise and by far the best way to manage this is to encourage the complaint to approach the other leaseholder amicably and directly. Aggressive or confrontational behaviour will almost always produce the wrong outcome.
The Local Authority and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can offer specialist advice on mediation and there are sometimes free or low-cost schemes available which leaseholders can use. These work really well for issues such as dog nuisance, noise or boundary disputes. The Ministry of Justice has an online directory for all civil mediation schemes.
Disputes can quickly become complaints if not managed properly at the outset. A complaints process may not strike at the root of the problem anyway so early and constructive intervention to help the parties to resolve matters amicably between themselves is a far better option.
What can the leaseholder do by themselves?
Managing Agents can suggest that the leaseholder:
- Approach their neighbour directly
- Suggest a mediation service to resolve the dispute
- Approach the local authority to deal with issues such as noise or problems with pets
- The police can become involved if the nuisance is within the communal areas
- The CAB can provide specialist advice
Can the local authority help?
All local authorities have anti-social behaviour policies and procedures which residents can draw on for support and guidance. Most areas also have a collaboration between the local authority and the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships which involve the police and the local authority working together. Some neighbourhoods will have specific Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) Co-ordinators who can help manage issues before they get out of hand.
Environmental health departments within the local authority can use their powers to tackle noise issues and other types of nuisance and some have Envirocrime units where they work alongside the police to tackle graffiti, fly-tipping and dog fouling.
A leaseholder can also apply to the courts for an ASBO – Anti-Social Behaviour Order – to stop any intimidation or harassment based on ethnicity, religion or disability.
The police have several different powers which could be useful in a situation involving anti-social behaviour. Local Community Support Officer can increase patrols and speak to residents. The police can also take action for any anti-social behaviour which constitutes a criminal offence or apply to the courts for an ASBO.
Specific types of anti-social behaviour with suggested remedies
- Noise – one of the commonest complaints but sometimes, this can be easily resolved between leaseholders with just some friendly cooperation. Noise complaints must be supported by a written record with date, time and levels to demonstrate that a nuisance has occurred. Many local authorities have emergency response teams to deal with one-off incidents such as late-night parties or raves, with powers to seize equipment and issue fixed penalty notices
- Graffiti – either the police or local authority can issue a fixed penalty notice concerning fly posting and minor graffiti
- Dogs – constant and incessant barking can be dealt with by the local authority as a noise nuisance. The RSPCA is also a useful source of information particularly if it is suspected that there are animal welfare issues involved. A dog bite is a criminal act but it is also a crime to allow a dog to endanger a person
- Hedges – local authorities have powers to deal with complaints about evergreen hedges over two metres in height – boundary disputes are a very common source of neighbour disputes. Overheight hedges can create issues which prevent a householder from reasonably enjoying his property. The local authority has the power to issues notices requiring action to be taken and failure to comply would constitute an offence
- Trees – trees are largely regulated by common law and the principle that a tree (or hedge) is owned by the person whose land it is growing on and that person is responsible for ensuring that the tree does not constitute a nuisance. Overhanging branches can create a nuisance by making an incursion onto a neighbouring property. Enforcement action is taken through the civil courts if necessary via an action for nuisance, trespass or negligence but this is a specialist and often costly legal area. Direct liaison with the tree owner or using a mediation service is a better course of action and is less confrontational and expensive
- Drugs – drug dealing is a criminal offence and the police have the power to issue a closure notice on suspected premises which can apply for anywhere from three to six months. During this time the property is sealed up and entry is prohibited
Orders, Agreements, Notices and Injunctions
There are lots of different types of remedies available at law, some of the key types include:-
- Acceptable Behaviour Agreement – these are used by local authorities to tackle anti-social behaviour amongst groups of young people, for instance, graffiti, racist behaviour or threatening behaviour.
- ASBO – Anti-Social Behaviour Order – an ASBO can be obtained from the police or the local authority who will apply to the magistrates’ court. ASBOs are civil orders that prohibit one or more people from specific anti-social acts and can be used to prevent a person from entering a defined area within the neighbourhood
- Injunction – under the Local Government Act 1972, a local authority can obtain an injunction from the county court to prevent public nuisance, examples include, begging, drug dealing and prostitution. Injunctions can usually be obtained fairly rapidly
- Premises Closure Order – obtained via the courts, a Premises Closure Order can temporarily close any building including communal areas in blocks of flats if there is a persistent and significant disorder or nuisance. A Premises Closure Order has to be applied for by the police or local authority
- Damage to communal areas – Damage can be caused to common parts by leaseholders or their tenants, this can be accidental or inadvertent such as carrying items up staircases like prams, shopping or bikes. The majority of leases contain a provision that any damage to communal areas will be paid for by the person who causes it but it is not always possible to identify the culprit.
- Staff harassment – Harassment of staff either by leaseholders or visitors to the premises is treated as any other anti-social behaviour and the same remedies would apply. Physical threats or intimidation are a police matter. Actual violence or assault does not need to take place, at law, it is still a criminal offence if someone fears or believes that violence may be used against them.
- Right of recourse using the lease – Managing complaints of anti-social behaviour under the lease can be more restrictive and it is useful to have a structured approach to follow step by step:-
- Make sure the complaint is genuine, ask the complainant to provide evidence or whether other leaseholders can confirm and corroborate the account
- Speak in a low key way to the leaseholder who is suggested to be at fault, a third party who is not involved can often make more headway than an angry tenant. If the flat is sub-let then the leaseholder may not be aware of the nuisance or anti-social behaviour going on his property
- Confirm your verbal conversation with the leaseholder in writing with a copy to the complainant. Keep the tone friendly and not formal and repeat, just set out again the covenants under the lease which are relevant to the nuisance or anti-social behaviour. Always put a time limit on the resolution of the problem, don’t leave it open-ended
- Issue a Solicitor’s letter. This can make a real impact but in reality, has no more legal force than a letter written by anyone else but it can be a relatively inexpensive way to make the point more forcefully. There will be some costs attached so do ascertain whether the fees can be charged to the service account or not. Always use a Solicitor experienced in landlord and tenant law as it is important to use the correct form of wording particularly if the matter has to escalate
- If at this point the matter remains unresolved, you should consider legal proceedings based on the likely outcome of success. Litigation is expensive and pointless if the right outcome cannot be more or less guaranteed irrespective of principle. Would the cost of litigation be justified? Are there sufficient witnesses to come forward? The terms of the lease may include a legal duty to proceed otherwise the managing agents could face action from the complainant