If you’re managing a property yourself, one of the most difficult problems to deal with is getting complaints from neighbours that your tenant is behaving in an anti-social manner. That could be anything from playing loud music at all hours, threatening neighbours, to a large number of suspicious visitors. Most landlords, when faced with a complaint like this, would be mortified. You want your tenants to behave in a reasonable manner, so what can you actually do?
First thing’s first: find out if the accusations are true. I had complaints about one of my tenants making unreasonable noise all day long from the downstairs neighbour. At first I did my best to contact my tenant each time to find out what was going on. She denied it – but what does that prove? Luckily, she is also my sister, and the next time a complaint came in about outrageous loud music and stamping on the floor, she was having lunch with me across town and the flat was empty…. To cut a long story short, it turned out that the neighbour had been drinking on top of some pretty strong anti-psychotic medications!
Nevertheless, it could be true, and if you have good reason to think so, you’d be forgiven for considering evicting the tenant. However, this is a notoriously difficult and time consuming (read: costly) process; so keep it as a last resort.
This is where your tenancy agreement comes in very handy, (if it’s well written that is). It should prohibit “nuisance or annoyance” to others, giving you leeway to insist on changed behaviour (or an opening for eviction). “Nuisance” has a very specific legal meaning, whereas “annoyance” is deliberately more vague, and can be legally interpreted as any actions or behaviours which might adversely affect someone else. These terms should also apply to anyone using the property, like children, visitors, friends etc. The tenant should be aware that they are responsible for the behaviour of others in the property.
I’d always start by talking to the tenant. Most are very reasonable people, and may not have realised that they were upsetting anyone. Even if they knew, a polite request will often resolve the issue. Be calm but clear that the behaviour is unacceptable – then back up the conversation with an email outlining the problems and whatever you’ve agreed. This helps create a paper trail in case things need to be escalated.
Landlords often feel obliged to do something, but remember that you are usually not legally obliged to do anything unless you know the property is being used illegally (i.e. as a brothel or drug den), or if you’re joining in all the wild parties yourself!
If your warning doesn’t work, and you feel the need to do more, give them a written final warning, outlining the steps you will be taking if they continue. If that gets ignored, you’ll need evidence of wrong-doing to go further – statements from neighbours or “nuisance diaries” with details, times, names and dates etc.
To take it to court you have 3 options:
- Section 21: This is a possession order, and if properly filed at the right time then the court has no option but to issue an order to vacate. However, these can be tricky to serve properly, so I might have to make a whole blog on them later!
- Breach of the tenancy agreement: This uses a Section 8 notice, and can be just as technically complex, but it’s basically a notice of intent to take proceedings to reclaim the property. You must provide reasons for doing so, which is why written records of problems are useful.
- Specific anti social behaviour grounds: Also using a Section 8 notice, but this can be a faster route than option 2.
For options 2 and 3, you must provide the court with evidence, and it will be up to the judges discretion whether to award you an eviction notice. You’d be surprised how often these judgments go against well-intentioned landlords. That’s why I’m glad to have a great legal team behind me on the rare occasions our office needs to pursue these actions!
This can be a complex area, and nothing above should be considered as legal advice – do what I do in these cases, and take advice on your specific circumstances directly from a legal professional. If you’re with a good agent, they should have the contacts to help, and will be happy to do so.
Finally, don’t let this put you off. It’s incredibly rare to face this type of problem, and even more rare for it to end up in court. I just believe in being prepared for anything. Happy lettings!
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