Having a ‘nightmare neighbour’ is something everyone dreads. An on-going dispute with the house over the road as to who owns which wheelie-bin is one thing, but people coming and going at all hours of the night to purchase or even use drugs on your street is quite another.
There can be a whole host of reasons why a property is associated with anti-social behaviour. Criminal gangs will often target a vulnerable individual and use their home as a base from which to deal drugs or store weapons. Neighbours report seeing drug-users attending the property or hear loud music or arguments in the early hours of the morning.
When the police or local authority receive complaints about this type of situation, one option is to issue a ’closure notice’ on the property. Under Section 80 of the Anti-Social Behavior, Crime and Policing Act 2014, they must then apply to the Magistrates’ Court for a ‘Closure Order’ within 48 hours.
A Closure Order can be obtained for the following reasons:
a) A person has engaged, or (if the order is not made) is likely to engage, in disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour on the premises, or
b) The use of the premises has resulted, or (if the order is not made) is likely to result, in serious nuisance to members of the public or
c) There has been, or (if the order is not made) is likely to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises,
d) and that the order is necessary to prevent the behaviour, nuisance or disorder from continuing, recurring or occurring.
A Closure Order prohibits access to the premises by anyone except specific individuals named in the order.
One of the issues to be determined by the Magistrates is often whether the tenant of the property should be allowed to remain living there. The effect of a Closure Order where the tenant is not permitted to access the premises is that the tenant will be made homeless. If the tenant lives at the property because it has been provided by the local authority (commonly known as a ‘council property’), then their participation in any anti-social behaviour is likely to be construed as them making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’. This has serious implications for their right to be re-homed by the local authority, depending on their vulnerabilities.
Magistrates often want to know whether the effect of the order they are going to make will make somebody homeless. The answer to this, whether the order is applied for by the local authority or the police, is usually not yet known. It is up to a different department at the local authority to determine whether the person can be re-homed (as anti-social behaviour and housing applications are dealt with separately). Typically however, the default position is that the applicant of the closure order seeks the exclusion of all people, including the person who legally resides at the property.
A Closure Order can only be made by the Magistrates for a period of 3 months. Before the expiry of the 3 months, a further application can be made to extend the order for another 3 months. The total period for a closure order cannot exceed 6 months. In an application to extend, the applicant must show that the “appropriate consultee” has been consulted about the intention to make the application. Where the application is made by the police, the “appropriate consultee” is the local authority. Where the application is made by the local authority, the appropriate consultee is the chief officer of police for the area in which the premises are situated.
Practically speaking, where an application is made by police, an individual from the local authority will usually be called to give evidence at the hearing. They will confirm that they are in agreement with the need to extend the closure order because of the on-going need to prevent the occurrence or reoccurrence of disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour, serious nuisance or disorder near the premises.
Once the order has expired (i.e. after 3 or 6 months), there will not be another means to prevent access to the property. This means that the local authority usually have a maximum of 6 months to seek a possession order or other civil recourse in order to prevent a council tenant from returning to live at the property.
Closure orders can be perceived as quite a draconian step in order to prevent anti-social behaviour. Although hearsay evidence is admissible at a hearing for an application for a Closure Order, it is still important that the application is properly evidenced, e.g. with witness statements taken from local residents (even if they remain anonymous) and photographs provided where possible. Usually these orders are only sought when there has been a period of police involvement, the anti-social behaviour persists, and there is no other option than to close the property so that anyone found there can be arrested for a stand-alone offence. Closing the property in this way can be the only way that neighbours receive some respite from an on-going nightmare.