Most landlords are likely to come across anti-social behaviour on the part of renters at some time or another. In fact, tenant anti-social behaviour (or ASB) is one of the most stressful and challenging aspects of being a landlord. According the the English Private Landlord Survey 2021, one in three landlords who ended a tenancy reportedly did so due to their tenant’s anti-social behaviour.
In this blog post, I explain what anti-social behaviour is, and share tips on how to avoid it and manage it. I also go through the proposals to support landlords that the government outlined in the White Paper, A Fairer Private Rented Sector in June 2022, and in the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, published on 27 March 2023. It’s likely that the findings of the ASB action plan will be implemented in the upcoming Renters’ Reform Bill.
Updated 5 May 2023
At a glance
- What is anti-social behaviour?
- Can landlords do anything to avoid it?
- What can landlords do to manage anti-social behaviour?
- The current law on evicting anti-social tenants
- Proposals in the White Paper
- Government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan (March 2023)
- Final thoughts
What is anti-social behaviour?
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 selecting 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 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.
What can landlords do to manage anti-social behaviour?
It’s good to talk
It’s important not to ignore tenants’ anti-social behaviour, in the hope it will go away. As a first step, try to investigate the complaint with an open mind. It’s a good idea to have a chat with them, and 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 don’t realise how others feel about their behaviour. It’s important to try to give tenants a chance. It’s 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.
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.
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
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 they don’t need to give a reason or any evidence, is to serve a Section 21 notice. 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.
2. Section 8, Ground 7A
This is a mandatory ground under Section 8. This means the court must grant an order for possession if the landlord can prove 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.
The anti-social behaviour must fall under one of the following 5 categories:
- 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 living at or visiting 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
3. Section 8, Ground 14
A landlord can apply to the court for possession in the event of 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 a number of factors when deciding whether or not 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 its decision based on the quality of the evidence provided and the seriousness of the anti-social 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.
Proposals in the White Paper
In June 2022, the government published its White Paper, A Fairer Private Rented Sector. One of the most controversial proposals was to abolish the right for landlords to terminate tenancies under Section 21. It also proposed some minor strengthening of the rights of landlords to evict tenants for anti-social behaviour under Section 8.
This was a blow to landlords, as Section 21 is usually the easiest way to evict problematic tenants. This is because it avoids going to court.
The White Paper proposed reducing the notice period for mandatory Ground 7A from four weeks to two weeks for a periodic tenancy, and to one month for a fixed term. It didn’t propose changing any of the five conditions mentioned above. This was barely a change, as Ground 7A is very restrictive.
The White Paper also didn’t suggest making changes the existing discretionary Ground 14 under Section 8.
You can find information on the abolition of Section 21 on landlords in my blog post here.
Government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan (March 2023)
The government published its Anti-Social Behaviour Plan on 27 March 2023. The press release describes it as “an ambitious new approach to working with local agencies to tackle the blight of anti-social behaviour facing communities across England and Wales.”
The good news for landlords, is that it does seem to have gone further than the proposals in the White Paper.
Highlights for landlords
- ASB Clauses. All private tenancy agreements will use clauses which specifically ban anti-social behaviour. This will make it ‘easier for landlords to use the breach of tenancy ground to evict anti-social tenants”.
- Changes to Ground 14. The government proposes amending Ground 14, the discretionary eviction ground, to make ASB easier to prove in court. This will be “by clarifying that any behaviour ‘capable’ of causing ‘nuisance or annoyance’ can lead to eviction”.
- Guidance for Judges. In order to improve the court process, they propose bringing forward legislation which will set out the principles that judges must consider when making their decision regarding Ground 14. The list includes giving weight to the impact on landlords, neighbours, and housemates. Also, it includes whether the tenant has failed to engage with other interventions to manage their behaviour.
- Prioritisation in the courts. They promise “to explore how to prioritise anti-social behaviour cases in Possession Lists in the courts”. The flip side is that other grounds such as rent arrears and breach of contract might be deprioritised.
- Ombudsman. Finally, they look to “explore ways to increase mediation in the private rented sector. For example with the new Ombudsman to support landlords when tenants commit low-level – but high impact – anti-social behaviour.” This isn’t new, and was in the White Paper.
All eyes on the Renters’ Reform Bill
Whilst the devil will be in the detail of the Renters’ Reform Bill when it is published the week of 8 May, this does look promising for landlords with anti-social tenants. No doubt in part to the efforts of the NRLA to explain the problems landlords face with anti-social behaviour.
That said, these proposals will add significant hassle for landlords when compared to Section 21. If the tenant’s ASB falls short of the criminal behaviour under mandatory Ground 7A, in order to evict them, landlords will need to take court action and prove to the court that the behaviour falls under discretionary Ground 14. Even with the improved guidance, tweaking of Ground 14 and prioritised court listing, that will not be easy.
I’ll update this blog post as soon as the Renters’ Reform Bill is published. Watch this space.
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. If you use this referral code, you’ll get £15 off NRLA membership: UYN-702. However, unless you’re an experienced landlord, I’d recommend using a specialist solicitor if you want to evict an anti-social tenant.
Although there has been much concern on the part of landlords about the proposal to abolish Section 21 in the White Paper, the revised proposals in the Anti-social Behaviour Action Plan do give cause for optimism.
Regardless of these new proposals, the abolition of Section 21 will make it harder for landlords to evict anti-social tenants. It’s therefore important to tackle anti-social behaviour now, rather than leaving it to Section 8 and the courts.