Neighbour Disputes & Anti-Social Behaviour

Overview

Anti-social behaviour is defined in law as ‘conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person’.

The law also defines anti-social behaviour in housing as:

‘conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to [their] occupation of residential premises’

‘conduct capable of causing housing-related nuisance or annoyance to any person’.

Housing-related nuisance or annoyance signifies behaviour that affects a social landlord’s ability to manage their housing.

Anti-social behaviour in housing can include:

  • Neighbours creating loud noise
  • Harassment including verbal abuse or threats
  • Vandalism, damage to property and graffiti
  • Fly-posting, dumping rubbish and abandoned cars
  • Nuisance caused by animals

If you are experiencing problems, it is important to keep an up-to-date record of incidents, noting the date, time of day and nature of the behaviour which is causing you annoyance or distress. This helps if you need to take formal action, as it helps build a picture and the extent of the problem. It will also help others to see an established pattern of nuisance, over a period of time.

Mediation

In some circumstances mediation (a way of coming to an agreement without going to court) may be a suitable solution although it can take place after court action. An independent mediator will listen to your views and your neighbour’s views to help you reach an agreement or compromise.

To find a local service, contact your local authority or a local advice agency.

Or visit the Ministry of Justice website: http://civilmediation.justice.gov.uk/

This provides a list of fee-charging providers, but local authorities and housing associations may offer free mediation services.

Noise and other statutory nuisances

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 means your local authority has a legal duty to take action, providing they are satisfied certain ‘statutory nuisances’ exist or are likely to occur or reoccur. Your local authority, has a duty to take ‘reasonably practicable’ steps to investigate your complaint if you report one of the following:

  • Noise emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance
  • Any premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance
  • Any accumulation or deposit which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance
  • Any animal kept in such a place or manner as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance
  • Artificial light emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance

If the local authority (usually the Environmental Health team) is satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists or is likely to occur or reoccur, an abatement notice must be served on the person held responsible.

An Abatement Notice

This is where steps must be taken to abate the nuisance, prevent it from occurring or prevent it from reoccurring. Anyone that fails to act on an abatement notice without giving good reason can be prosecuted as its a criminal offence.

Owner occupiers and tenants can be served with a notice. However a local authority is unable to serve a notice on themselves, therefore if the problem is a structural defect in a local authority, for example, they may serve an informal notice on their housing department, who in turn will take steps to abate the nuisance.

Ordinary domestic noise such as children playing and talking will not result in any formal action of the local authority, nor will they require improvements to be made to the sound insulation of your property. The courts have said that poor sound insulation cannot make a property ‘prejudicial to health’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. There is no prescribed limit at which a noise becomes a statutory nuisance however, the noise must be unreasonable.

Related powers

Under the Noise Act 1996 local authorities have the power to deal with residential noise that exceeds a certain permitted level between the hours of 11pm and 7am.

Certain local authorities have 24-hour teams who deal with noise complaints, and in some instances the police may respond.Local authorities also have powers to deal with noise arising from building sites and entertainment venues for example pubs and clubs.

Trees and hedges

Trees

If a tree is hanging over your property, speak to your neighbour first, requesting they trim it back. If they don't, you are allowed to trim it back yourself (to the boundary line), but you must offer the trimmings back to your neighbour.

You can be fined for cutting back a tree in a conservation area, so seek clarification from your local authority that the tree is not subject to a tree preservation order. Trees in conservation areas are automatically protected.

The Environmental Health team (of the local authority) have powers to deal with trees on private property that are in a dangerous condition.

Hedges

If you have an issue with the height of a neighbours hedge, you should attempt to discuss this direct, do not attempt to reduce the height yourself. Visit: Over the garden hedge to see the government leaflet explaining the process you must follow before complaining to the local authority. In addition their leaflet hedges: complaining to the council details when local authorities can become involved.

Parking rights

You do not have exclusive rights to the section of road or pavement outside your home, if you are living on a publicly maintained road. However there may be local restrictions allowing you the right to a particular space.

General powers are given to the local authority and the police to remove illegally parked vehicles or vehicles that are abandoned or causing an obstruction.

Certain areas have enforcement officers that deal with parking contraventions. For example, it may be an offence for someone to park at the bottom of your driveway without permission. Contact your local authority if this occurs.

Responsibility for shared amenities

If your property has shared amenities for example drains, pipes, or drives the legal documents of the property should outline your responsibilities in regards to any maintenance or repairs. If the information is not conclusive speak to your neighbours to agree a course of action and to decide how to share expenses. The best course of action is to obtain a surveyor’s report and estimates from a builder for the repairs and to consult and obtain consent from all parties, before any expense is incurred.

Planning proposals

Your local authorities planning team is your first contact if you have an objection or concern about any proposed building works in your area or a building’s change of use.

They can advise you as to whether permission has been granted and, if so, whether the terms and conditions have been complied with.

Powers of the police

The police have responsibility for dealing with anti-social behaviour that constitutes a criminal offence, such as, vandalism, graffiti or harassment. They also have additional powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014:

Community Protection Notices (CPNs)

These are legal notices that require a person or body behaving in an anti-social manner, known as the perpetrator to change their behaviour. CPNs can only be issued to a person aged 16 or over when the following conditions are met:

  • A written warning concerning their behaviour is given to the perpetrator
  • Enough time has been granted to the perpetrator to make the necessary changes
  • The police are satisfied on reasonable grounds that the behaviour of the perpetrator is having a detrimental effect, of a persistent or continuing nature, on the quality of life of people in the area
  • The police are satisfied on reasonable grounds that the behaviour of the perpetrator is unreasonable.

Any perpetrator failing to comply with a CPN commits an offence.

Injunctions

The police can apply for an injunction to be made against the perpetrator who has behaved in an antisocial manner. An injunction is a court order prohibiting the perpetrator from doing something or compelling them to do something. A court may issue an injunction against a perpetrator aged 10 or over provided that two conditions are met. The court must be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities that:

  • The perpetrator has engaged or
  • threatened to engage in anti-social behaviour
  • It is just and convenient to grant the injunction for the purpose of preventing the anti-social behaviour

Power of arrest

A power of arrest can be attached to a condition of the injunction where it is the view of the court that the perpetrators anti-social behaviour involves violence or threats of violence or the perpetrator presents a significant risk of harm to others. Harm can include serious ill-treatment or abuse, whether physical or not. Consequently the perpetrator can be arrested without a warrant (where the power of arrest is attached) and the police have reasonable cause to suspect a relevant condition has been breached. Whether a power of arrest has been attached or not, the police have the power to apply for a warrant for the perpetrator’s arrest in the event that any of the injunction’s provisions may have been breached.

Criminal behaviour orders (CBO)

These are made by the criminal courts and used when sentencing someone or discharging them conditionally, as an addition to the sentence or conditional discharge order.

The court must be satisfied, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the person has engaged in behaviour that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person. They must also be of the view that the order will help in preventing the person from engaging in such behaviour.

Dispersal powers and closure notices

The police have the power to direct people to leave an area for up to 48 hours if their behaviour has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress. They can close premises if they believe it is necessary to prevent the nuisance or disorder from continuing, recurring or occurring.In theses situations a closure notice is issued which can last for up to 48 hours. Once a notice has been issued, an application must be made to a magistrates’ court to obtain a closure order. The application must be heard within 48 hours unless the closure notice has been cancelled. The court can prohibiting access to the premises or part of the premises lasting up to three months.

Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs)

PCSOs focus on lower-level crime and are employed by the police. You should approach them if you have questions or concerns about anti-social behaviour. The PCSOs have been given a range of powers, including issuing fixed-penalty tickets and confiscating alcohol which is being consumed in public places.

Landlords

It is the responsibility of all landlords to take action against anti-social behaviour, but social landlords (local authorities and housing associations) are more likely to act and they have more powers.

Injunctions

Social landlords can apply for injunctions, although non-local authority landlords, such as housing associations, may only apply where the behaviour directly or indirectly relates to, or affects the management of, their housing. Once an injunction is made, the landlord can apply for a warrant for the perpetrator’s arrest in situations where they think a provision has been breached. The court has the power to grant an injunction, which excludes an adult perpetrator from their home providing it is made on the application of a local authority or the social landlord that manages that property.

All social landlords are obliged to publish policies and procedures for dealing with anti-social behaviour under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. You have the right to inspect a copy of these at reasonable times of the day and also request a copy for a reasonable fee. A summary can be provided free of charge.

A housing officer should investigate the alleged anti-social behaviour and contact the perpetrator before taking appropriate action. If the alleged perpetrator has a vulnerability, like a mental health problem, the housing officer may contact and involve other agencies such as social services.

Private landlords have the power to evict their tenants for behaving antisocially if other steps taken do not resolve the issues. They cannot apply for an injunction, however they can involve the local authority or the police.

Moving options

In situations where you are at risk of violence or are afraid of retaliation you may decide that moving is the only option available.

Social tenants

Your landlord may agree to re-house you in the most serious of cases. Your landlord will have anti-social behaviour policies and procedure setting out circumstances when a transfer would be considered. Regardless of your housing tenure, it may be possible to join the housing waiting list if you want to move. You may be able to make a homelessness application if it is no longer reasonable for you to occupy your property.

Private tenants

It is extremely unlikely that a private landlord will be able to re-house you but private tenancies tend to be granted for short periods of time with limited security of tenure. Therefore allowing you more flexibility if you experience anti-social behaviour. If your tenancy is a fixed term agreement, check whether the agreement contains a break clause allowing you to leave early. If not, speak to your landlord to see if they will consider ‘surrendering’ the tenancy. If they don’t agree, you may be liable to pay rent for the duration of the fixed term even if you leave the property.

Homelessness

If the situation is such that it is no longer reasonable for you to remain in your property, you may be able to make a homelessness application. For example where it is probable that remaining in the property would lead to you or a member of your household experiencing domestic or other violence. This includes threats of violence likely to be carried out. Domestic violence includes psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse.

It is very important that you do not leave a property or terminate a tenancy without seeking advice first, as you may be considered intentionally Homeless when you make your application.

The community trigger

The community trigger (sometimes known as an ‘ASB Case Review) entitles you to a multi-agency review of your case if a certain threshold is met. The agencies involved are the local authority, local social landlords, the police and local Clinical Commissioning Groups (England) or Local Health Boards (Wales).

If you make a complaint about anti-social behaviour in a particular local government area the relevant agencies in that area must carry out an ASB case review provided that:

  • You, or any other person, makes an application for such a review, activating the Community Trigger; and
  • The relevant agencies decide that the threshold for a review has been met

Each Local Authority area will set their own threshold but the most common threshold is likely to be if someone has complained 3 times within a 6 month period and considers no action has been taken. The review will focus either on the ongoing anti-social behaviour as per the original complaint or on the adequacy of the response to that behaviour. Victims should be able to see a full, independent review of their complaint.

The ASB case review agencies must inform the applicant of the outcome of the review and any recommendations made. They must also publish each year how many triggers have been activated and how many case reviews have been carried out in that year.

Each Local Authority must specify the point of contact where an applicant can activate the Community Trigger and they must ensure that applications made to that point of contact are passed on to all the relevant agencies in their local government area. The statutory guidelines stipulate that this information is made clear and that there are a number of ways an applicant can activate the trigger.

Harassment

Harassment is prohibited under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This can involve causing another person alarm or distress. It could be verbal abuse, threats, vandalism specifically directed against you, racial harassment or homophobic harassment. The perpetrator must have done this at least twice (although not necessarily to you each time) and must have known or ought to have known their behaviour amounted to that of harassment. If you are being harassed, you should report each incident to the police in order to build up evidence. If those responsible are local authority or housing association tenants, you should also contact the landlord. If you are a local authority or housing association tenant, your landlord may be able to assist you with moving.Under the Act, you can also make a civil action application in cases of harassment. You can also apply to the court for an injunction against the person or people responsible.