Birmingham City Housing Chief, Conservative Councillor John Lines, last week issued a clear threat to rioters living in Birmingham council houses. The Birmingham Mail quoting him as saying: “There will be no soft option from me, I have thousands of decent law-abiding families queuing up for council houses and will waste no time getting rid of these scum of the earth.”
Of course, by “getting rid” he means eviction. Where a council tenant has been convicted of rioting on the streets, would evicting him or her so that they are now forced on to the streets lift our community? Or would it entrench and worsen a huge problem? The perceived justice of eviction may be possible to understand but quite how it would benefit the Birmingham community is more difficult to see.
Putting these practical and ethical issues to one side, does he have the legal power to evict? This is not a question to which Councillor John Lines pretends to have the answer. He says that he will be taking legal advice on whether those convicted of disorder can be evicted under anti-social behaviour clauses in their tenancy agreements. What will his legal advisors be telling him?
The answer may depend to a large extent on the terms of the Council’s tenancy agreements. It would be surprising, however, if any clauses relating to anti-social behaviour were not concerned with the effect of such behaviour on residents of neighbouring property rather than an isolated incident (or small number of incidents) of anti-social behaviour that may have occurred several miles from the property. The clauses would not have been drafted with the riots in mind and it is unlikely that the Council will be able to evict rioters on the basis of current tenancy agreements.
The Council does have some powers introduced by the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. Those powers enable the local housing authority to apply to the court for a “demotion order” which terminates a secure tenancy. Such an order will only be made by the court where certain types of anti-social behaviour have been committed and the court considers it reasonable to make the order. Alternatively, proceedings for possession may be brought under the Housing Act 1985 where a tenant has “been guilty of conduct causing or likely to cause a nuisance or annoyance to a person residing, visiting or otherwise engaging in a lawful activity in the locality.” It is unlikely that this will apply to rioting which will rarely have occurred within the locality of the residence.
Councillor John Lines may wish to evict looters but there is law, and a judicial process, that must be followed. It is not likely that he will find a sound legal basis for the action he would like to take.