Yet another attempt at populism by Mr Shapps with his announcement that ‘neighbours from hell’ will face faster eviction under ‘radical plans’ to introduce a new additional mandatory ground for possession against social tenants, under which tenants with a track record of anti-social behaviour can be evicted from their council or housing association property much more quickly. At its core, the proposal means that being found guilty of housing related anti-social behaviour in one court will provide automatic grounds for eviction in the county court, removing the need to prove the incidents of anti-social behaviour for a second time.
So far so good, it would be hard to find a stronger consensus on any issue than the one in support of tackling anti-social behaviour quickly and effectively.
However, m’learned friends at the consistently excellent Nearly Legal website take a different view. And, as NL says, it is housing lawyers who will have to make sense of this when court cases follow.
So what are their key points?
First, NL say that a criminal conviction would already be incontestable as a fact in civil possession proceedings – there is no need for something to be ‘proved again’ on a possession claim at all.
Secondly, they see definitional problems. Mr Shapps says the new mandatory ground will follow a tenant being found guilty of ‘housing related anti-social behaviour’ – but, say NL, that “covers a lot of ground, from the minor but annoying to the very serious indeed. And ‘found guilty’ – does this mean a conviction in the Magistrates or Crown Court? Or the Magistrates making an ASBO or ASBI?”
Thirdly, they see problems in the word ‘mandatory’, which due to a case called Pinnock, is a bit more of a tricky concept than it used to be and not as certain as Mr Shapps would like.
Fourthly, they say there is little if any evidence that non-mandatory possession proceedings are what is getting in the way of dealing with the problem, even in the dreadful ASB cases quoted in Mr Shapps’ press release.
NL places the problem closer to home, and in particular the failure of some landlords and the police to take more effective and joined up action against perpetrators or to support victims, and the lack of dedicated funding. So, they conclude, “Unless existing powers are actually used (and the dedicated joined-up ASB teams funded), the fact that there may be a kind of mandatory possession proceeding .. is going to make no practical difference to the situation at all, as there will be as few ‘housing related ASB’ prosecutions as there are now, or even fewer.”
Mr Shapps announcement is therefore, they say, “a chocolate teapot”.
PS – another sceptical lawyer writes on 24 Dash – see here http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2011-01-14-Lawyer-in-warning-over-fast-track-evicitons-under-ASBO-reforms