Council 'infringing rights of its tenants'

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The Independent Online

A flagship Conservative borough was yesterday accused of flouting tenants' human rights after it drew up leases which ban activities such as feeding squirrels and hanging out washing as anti-social.

A flagship Conservative borough was yesterday accused of flouting tenants' human rights after it drew up leases which ban activities such as feeding squirrels and hanging out washing as anti-social.

Wandsworth Council, south-west London, unveiled the agreements for 20,000 rented properties as part of a get-tough policy on disruptive residents. The regulations, which come into force on 1 January after consultation with tenants' groups, will replace vaguely worded leases which housing chiefs claimed made evictingtenants often impossible.

Residents will be given a list of prohibited activities - ranging from crimes of violence and racism to having a barbecue on a balcony - which could lead to eviction. Wandsworth defended the conditions as meeting the wishes of tenants who were approached to devise the rules.

The leases specifically ban tenants from behaviour already accepted as anti-social, such as making noise, giving racist or sexist abuse, committing violence and dealing in drugs or prostitution. Few, however, would have expected to see feeding pigeons or squirrels, hanging washing outside homes, keeping an untaxed car on the street or having a domestic argument defined as damaging to the social fabric.

A Wandsworth spokesman confirmed that tenants who repeatedly broke the rules could face court proceedings for an eviction: "These are tough rules and we intend to enforce them."

The Liberty rights group said the council could be breaking the new Human Rights Act, which requires actions by a public authority to be "proportionate" with the right to a home and a family life.

Deborah Clark, Liberty director of public affairs, said: "Tenancy agreements that prohibit people from hanging out their washing to dry or holding barbecues on their balconies or seeking to evict them for failing to tax their car could well be in breach of the Human Rights Act."

Wandsworth said anyone evicted under the rules would almost certainly be deemed to have made themselves intentionally homeless and therefore "extremely unlikely" to be re-housed by a local authority.

Wandsworth, which includes Putney, Wimbledon and Battersea, already has a reputation for taking a hard line on social responsibility. Last year it accounted for 75 per cent of prosecutions in Britain for littering and last month called for travellers to be made to pay for clean-up operations on sites they have visited.

Yesterday the Wandsworth spokesman sought to qualify the regulations, saying that only extreme infringement on areas such as squirrel-feeding or hanging out washing could lead to asking the courts for an eviction.

Some representatives of residents were delighted. Eve O'Roaghty, chairwoman of the Roehampton Estate Community Council in Richmond, said: "Nobody wants a barbecue under their balcony. These rules are necessary and should be enforced."

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