Law Report: 14 November 1997; Tenants evicted for anti-social behaviour on estate

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The criminal and anti-social behaviour of council tenants and their children around the estate where they lived was "conduct which is a nuisance or annoyance to neighbours" within the terms of ground 2 in Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1985, and accordingly the council was entitled to a possession order against them.

Northampton Borough Council v Lovatt and anor; Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Henry, Lord Justice Pill and Lord Justice Chadwick) 11 November 1997.

The Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Pill dissenting) dismissed the appellants' appeal against an order for possession of a council house on the Spencer Estate, Northampton, obtained by the council.

The appellants occupied the house with their seven children, the three eldest of whom were boys. The council had obtained the possession order primarily on the ground that those three boys, who were persons "residing in the dwelling-house" had been guilty of "conduct which is a nuisance or annoyance to neighbours", pursuant to Schedule 2 to and section 84 of the Housing Act 1985.

Derek Wood QC and Edmund Farrell (Toller Hales and Collcutt, Northampton) for the appellants; Paul Morgan QC and John W Gibson (Council Solicitor) for the council.

Lord Justice Henry said that the appellants' tenancy was a secure tenancy within the meaning of Part IV of the Housing Act 1985. Under the Act the council could only bring the tenancy to an end by obtaining a possession order, and that could only be obtained on one or more of the grounds set out in Schedule 2 to the Act. Ground 2 provided that the tenant or a person residing in the dwelling house had been guilty of conduct which was a nuisance or annoyance to neighbours, or had been convicted of using the dwelling house or allowing it be used for immoral or illegal purposes.

The council's notice to the appellants had alleged under ground 2 that they had failed to control or discipline their children, or to control their own conduct, so as to allow neighbours on the Spencer Estate to enjoy quiet possession of their homes, and so as to prevent nuisance.

Before the district judge, the appellants had admitted 11 convictions or findings of guilt in 1994 involving people or property on the Spencer Estate which had been committed between the three boys. Mrs Lovatt herself had been convicted of a breach of the peace at the premises, involving a police officer, and Mr Lovatt had used his property for running a car maintenance and repair business. The judge had also been told of harassment and racial abuse in 1995 and 1996.

The challenge to the judge's decision was that he had been wrong in law to find that acts of nuisance and annoyance committed away from the demised premises were relevant nuisance and annoyance for the purposes of ground 2 in Schedule 2 to the Act of 1985, it being denied that the victims were "neighbours".

"Neighbours" was a wider word than "adjoining occupiers", and was clearly intended in ground 2 under the Act to cover all persons sufficiently close to the source of the conduct complained of to be adversely affected by it.

The conduct complained of need not emanate from the demised premises, but could be conduct in the neighbourhood. There must, however, be a link between the behaviour of the appellants and their sons which constituted a nuisance or annoyance and the fact that they lived in the area. That link was the legitimate interest of the council in requiring its tenants to respect the neighbourhood in which they lived and the quiet enjoyment of their homes by those who lived there.

The vandalism, racial abuse, driving offences and burglaries in the present case constituted attacks on the neighbourhood and those who lived there, and would damage the quality of life on the estate. They were legitimate concerns of the council as landlord. It would have been perverse for the judge to have concluded that there was no link between the conduct of the appellants and their sons and the fact that they lived on the estate which was the focus for their anti-social and criminal conduct. The appeal would be dismissed.

- Kate O'Hanlon, Barrister

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