Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Grant Shapps: Swifter justice for victims of 'neighbours from hell'
Housing Minister Grant Shapps has today announced plans to speed up the process for evicting persistent 'neighbours from hell' from their homes when all other efforts to curb their anti-social behaviour have failed.
He has proposed a new mandatory power for possession, enabling previous convictions for anti-social behaviour to be taken into account and short-cutting the often long and expensive process which requires landlords to prove again the 'yobbish' actions of their nightmare tenants.
Trigger offences are likely to include:
a conviction for a serious housing-related offence - including violence against neighbours, drug dealing and criminal damage
breach of an injunction for anti-social behaviour - where the social landlord has obtained, or is party to, the injunction; and
closure of a premises under a closure order - for example where a property has been used for drug dealing.
The Minister made clear that eviction should only ever be the last resort - but that too often the rights of victims have come second to those of the people making their lives a misery.
It is estimated that the Courts make 3,000 eviction orders for anti-social behaviour against social tenants each year. Most of the others are resolved through other support or enforcement measures such as mediation, acceptable behaviour agreements, Family Intervention Projects or injunctions.
But where landlords reach the last resort of eviction, survey data indicates that it takes on average seven months from applying for a possession order to being granted one. And with some defendants deciding to not turn up or cases being adjourned several times, it can sometimes take much longer.
The costs to landlords, and by extension their tenants, of evicting a 'neighbour from hell' can be well over £20,000 in complex cases.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps said:
"All too often, efforts to tackle neighbours from hell take far too long, and it seems the needs and right of the victims play second fiddle to those of the perpetrators.
"That's why I'm looking to speed up the process, so where a social housing tenant already has a conviction for anti-social behaviour and the situation has not improved this can be taken into account and landlords can act swiftly to bring an end to the day-to-day misery that is inflicted for too long on those simply seeking to quietly enjoy their homes.
"Of course eviction is a drastic step and should be the last resort that landlords take to tackle this menace - but when all other options have failed to stop this yobbish behaviour, victims should not have to wait months or even years to see justice done."
Baroness Newlove, victims campaigner and the Government's Champion for Active Safer Communities, welcomed this new announcement, which she argued demonstrates clearly that the Government is on the side of victims not offenders.
"My postbag is filled with heartbreaking stories of law-abiding families whose lives are made a living hell by the actions of a few uncaring, selfish individuals whose thoughtlessness or ruthless criminal actions blight and intimidate whole neighbourhoods.
"These victims of anti-social behaviour live in abject misery begging in vain for help from one agency or another and sometimes spend years, powerless to do anything about it. If they are owner occupiers they cannot sell their homes and move, such is the trap they are in. This has got to stop.
"This action will go a long way to redress the balance in their favour.
"We must empower social landlords to back the quiet suffering majority and deal swiftly with the criminal minority. I shall ensure my work gives maximum exposure so any citizen finding themselves in the same situation living next door to the neighbour from hell will have the knowledge and tools to finally see swift redress. Perhaps the very real threat of losing their home may bring to heel those who deny the right of a peaceful life to others."
Baroness Browning, Minister for Crime Prevention and Antisocial Behaviour Reduction, said:
"I welcome these proposals. They build on those outlined in our recent 'More Effective Responses to Anti-social Behaviour' consultation and support the cross-government action on tackling anti-social behaviour, which is a key priority for us.
"Our aim is to ensure that, in future, where a community or victim is suffering anti-social behaviour - particularly the sort of targeted, persistent harassment apparent in a number of high-profile recent cases - the police and other local agencies take the problem seriously, deal with it swiftly, and protect vulnerable victims."
Notes to editors
1. Examples of recent eviction cases include:
Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association
Two tenants of Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association carried out an extensive campaign of anti-social behaviour targeting their neighbour's family for many years. This included excessive noise, which was witnessed by relevant officers and the police.
As a result of the seriousness of the anti-social behaviour and the impact on the neighbour's young family, a Premises Closure Order was granted on their property in September 2009 - one of the first where drugs were not an issue. The order was later extended but the tenant appealed against the order. The appeal was finally dismissed by the Court of Appeal in October 2010.
In the meantime, the landlord had filed for possession order in the court on 27 October 2009. A directions hearing was held in January 2010 and a trial date was set for 19 November 2010. Pending the determination of the appeal against the closure order and the outcome of the possession case, the landlord took out an injunction excluding the tenants from the property in March 2010.
A possession order was granted on 7 April 2011, 18 months after the process began. Despite the evidence being proven to a criminal standard through to the High Court for the closure order, the landlord had to prove the case all over again for the possession order, putting the witnesses through another trial. Now the tenants have appealed against the possession granted. The total cost of the whole process so far to the landlord has been in excess of £38,000.
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