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How to manage Tenant Anti-Social Behaviour

landlord looking stressed because of antisocial behaviour of tenants renters

Tenant anti-social behaviour (or ASB) can be one of the most stressful aspects of being a landlord. According the the English Private Landlord Survey 2021, one in three landlords who ended a tenancy did so due to their tenant’s anti-social behaviour. Most landlords are likely to come across anti-social behaviour on the part of renters at some time or another.

The press release accompanying the publication of the Renters Reform Bill on 17 May 2023 proclaimed grandly that: “The reforms will strengthen powers to evict anti-social tenants, broadening the disruptive and harmful activities that can lead to eviction and making it quicker to evict a tenant acting anti-socially.”

In this blog post, I explain what anti-social behaviour is, and share tips on how to manage it. I then compare the current law to the wording in the draft Renters Reform Bill. Finally I discuss what the changes will mean in practice. (Subject of course to any changes as the Bill makes its way through parliament).

What is anti-social behaviour?

woman upset at receiving an antisocial behaviour text message from a tenant
Anti-social behaviour includes repeated abusive text messages

Section 29 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 has a very wide definition of anti-social behaviour. It defines it as “behaviour by a person which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more other persons not of the same household as the person”.

Anti-social behaviour needs to be part of a persistent pattern. This means it can’t be a one off, but must have happened multiple times. The Housing Ombudsman for social housing gives examples of noise at high levels or unreasonable hours, uncontrolled and noisy pets. Also, drug misuse, alcohol-related nuisance, violence, rubbish dumping, verbal and physical abuse and threats. Abuse to landlords and agents from tenants via text is quite common.

It doesn’t include the sorts of noise or behaviour that isn’t “anti-social”, like children playing, groups of teenagers gathered in a park without committing any of the things listed above. A one-off loud party isn’t anti-social behaviour, but frequent ones could be.

Can landlords do anything to avoid it?

Prevention is better than cure, and landlords should be very careful when choosing tenants. I recommend taking up full references. For instance, OpenRent’s comprehensive referencing (affiliate link), which includes credit checks, CCJs, and a previous landlord reference, as well the usual affordability and income checks.

I don’t use a high street letting agent, and use an online agent instead for a fraction of the price. This means I personally choose between the applicants and don’t delegate the selection to a letting agent. I like to meet them in person and see their reactions when I ask questions. Even if landlords prefer to use letting agents, I do recommend meeting the tenants before you sign the tenancy agreement. For more tips, you can read my blog post on how to let using online letting agents.

I also give my business card to the neighbours and ask them to let me know if they have any concerns. This means I should get a heads up early on if there’s a potential problem with anti-social behaviour from the tenants.

>> Related Post: How to choose good renters

What can landlords do to manage anti-social behaviour?

two people shaking hands to show resolution
Responsible landlords try to reach an agreement with tenants

It’s good to talk

It’s important not to ignore tenants’ anti-social behaviour, in the hope it will go away by itself. As a first step, try to investigate the complaint with an open mind. It’s a good idea to have a chat with them. Explain to them why their behaviour is being seen as anti-social.

Responsible landlords make a point of listening to their tenants’ side of the story. It’s being fair, as the landlord might not be aware of all the circumstances. It’s best to try to nip it in the bud and agree a way forward.

Sometimes they genuinely don’t realise the impact their behaviour is having on other people. It’s important to try to give tenants a chance. It’s also important they understand the consequences if they don’t stop the anti-social behaviour. In other words, they risk eviction.

On the other hand, in more serious cases involving serious threatening behaviour and violence, it may be best to involve the police straight away.

In any event, it’s a good idea to take someone with you, if you’re going to discuss it in person, especially if there have been complaints of violence or intimidation. Tenants can react badly and defensively when they are given negative feedback about their behaviour.

Following up with tenants

As with all conversations with renters, it’s best to send a follow-up message or email confirming what was discussed and what you agreed. If it’s a mild case it can be done by text or WhatsApp message, but for anything serious, landlords should send a written warning with an action plan email or even a letter.

It’s a bit like managing conduct in the work place. Memories can vary after the event, and having a written record is very helpful. (That’s the lawyer in me speaking!)

If the landlord does try to evict using Ground 14, evidence of these discussions will be very helpful, so do keep full records.

Further action

For more severe cases, the landlord might involve the police and even take immediate possession proceedings to end the tenancy might be appropriate. Do take legal advice, or give the NRLA helpline a call if you’re a member.

The council might also be involved, and they often provide useful advice. A good example of guidance for landlords is Watham Forest’s webpage on the responsibilities landlords have for their tenants’ anti-social behaviour.

The current law on evicting anti-social tenants

Photo of Section 21 Form 6A notice to terminate assured shorthold tenancy

Under the current law, if a landlord wishes to evict a tenant for anti-social behaviour, they have three options:

1. Section 21

This is usually the simplest route for landlords, as a Section 21 notice doesn’t require a reason or any evidence. However, the notice can’t expire during a fixed term tenancy agreement, without a break clause.

Also, the landlord needs must have complied with certain responsibilities. This includes serving the up-to-date How to Rent Checklist, EPC and Gas Safety Certificate on the tenants, and providing the prescribed information to tenants following the registration of their deposit. For more information, read my explanation about terminating tenancies under Section 21.

However, as confirmed in the Renters Reform Bill, Section 21 is due to be abolished, which means the simplicity of Section 21 will no longer be available to landlords when it comes into effect.

>> Related Post: Renters Reform Timetable: What happens when

>> Related Post: What the abolition of Section 21 means for landlords

2. Section 8, Ground 7A

Ground 7A is a mandatory ground under Section 8. This means the court must grant an order for possession if the landlord can provide evidence of the anti-social behaviour. The landlord needs to give four weeks’ notice for a periodic tenancy, and one month’s notice during a fixed term.

For Ground 7A to apply, the anti-social behaviour must fall under one of the following 5 categories, which all involve some sort of court action relating to the ASB:

  • conviction of serious offence by a tenant or anyone living or visiting the property
  • breach of an injunction to prevent a nuisance or annoyance (IPNA) by a tenant or anyone at the property
  • breach of a criminal behaviour order by a tenant or anyone living at or visiting the property
  • a closure order has been made to prevent or deal with nuisance at the property
  • conviction for noise nuisance by a tenant or anyone living at or visiting the property

>> Related Post: How to terminate a tenancy using Section 8

>> Related Post: Making sense of the new Section 8 in the Renters Reform Bill

3. Section 8, Ground 14

police car in the UK
Evidence of police involvement with anti-social tenant can assist an application for possession under Section 8, Ground 14

A landlord can apply to the court for possession where the ASB falls short of those in Ground 7A. In other words, nuisance, annoyance, illegal or immoral use of the property using Ground 14. This is a discretionary ground, which means it’s up to the court to decide whether or not to grant possession.

Ground 14 is significantly wider than Ground 7A, as it includes anti-social behaviour that does not include convictions. Consequently, it allows neighbours and other tenants to provide supporting evidence for the harm the tenant’s behaviour has caused.

Judges have to consider several factors when deciding whether to grant a possession order. They will only grant possession if they consider it’s reasonable.

To be successful, landlords need to provide evidence which shows the anti-social behaviour is persistent and warrants eviction. The judge will make their decision based on the quality of the evidence and the seriousness of the behaviour. For instance, witness statements, evidence of police involvement and evidence of steps taken to address the behaviour.

Once you gain possession from anti-social tenants, change the locks, just in case.

What does the Renters Reform Bill say about Tenant Anti-Social Behaviour?

woman reading about the key changes in the renters reform bill on an ipad

After much fanfare in the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Plan , published in March 2023, the Renters Reform Bill feels like a bit of a damp squib when it comes to anti-social behaviour.

The Changes affecting Ground 7A in the Renters Reform Bill

There are no changes to the text of Ground 7A, which means that this Mandatory Ground will only cover the criminal behaviour outlined in the existing Ground 7A above. This continues to keep the bar very high for landlords, who won’t have a mandatory ground for lower level anti-social behaviour.

However, there are two subtle changes in other parts of the Bill that will change how Ground 7A works in practice:

  • The current notice period of four weeks / one month will be reduced to zero, which means a landlord will be able to make a claim for possession immediately.
  • Under the new Section 215(4), landlords will be able to make a claim for possession even if the tenancy deposit was not protected.

The Changes to Ground 14 in the Renters Reform Bill

As signalled in the Anti-Social Behaviour Plan, the Bill amends Discretionary Ground 14 so it will be theoretically slightly easier to for landlords to show that the behaviour merits eviction. The Explanatory Notes to the Renters Reform Bill states that it will enable the court to consider a wider range of behaviours. Whether this proves to be the case or not remains to be seen.

This Ground is discretionary. That means that judges must consider whether eviction is a reasonable and proportionate response to the behaviour in question.

What’s not in the Renters Reform Bill

The Anti-Social Behaviour Plan promised a couple of things that aren’t in the Renters Reform Bill:

  • Guidance for the courts
    • The plan referred to bringing forward legislation which will set out the principles that judges must consider when making their decision regarding Ground 14.
    • This would weight to the impact on landlords, neighbours, and housemates. Also, it would include whether the tenant has failed to engage with other interventions to manage their behaviour.
    • This isn’t in the Bill as drafted, although it may be introduced at a later date.
  • Prioritisation in the courts
    • The plan promised “to explore how to prioritise anti-social behaviour cases in Possession Lists in the courts”.
    • Apart from the press release to the Bill saying it would be introduced “alongside a reformed courts process”, with more of the process being digitised, “reducing delays”, nothing concrete has been published to show this will be the case.

Final thoughts

It’s very stressful dealing with anti-social behaviour from tenants. The first port of call for me would be to call the NRLA helpline, to talk it all through. This helpline is available to NRLA members, free of charge. If you’re a landlord and you’re not a member, you should be. Here’s a link to the NRLA membership page. However, unless you’re an experienced landlord, I’d recommend using a specialist solicitor if you want to evict an anti-social tenant.

Although the Renters Reform Bill includes some useful changes to Grounds 7A and 14, the abolition of Section 21 will make it harder for landlords to evict anti-social tenants. Instead of the paper-based process of Section 21, landlords will need to apply to the court to evict a tenant who’s convicted of the most egregious ABS. This will take time, and time means money when it comes to getting lawyers to do anything.

Therefore, proactive management of anti-social behaviour will be crucial, rather than leaving it to Section 8 and the courts.

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What can landlords do about tenant's anti-social behaviour? Landlord with head in hands looking upset
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