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Will social landlords be forced to act on anti-social behaviour?

25 September 2008

In December 2008 the House of Lords will hear a case which could have significant implications for the ASB Policy of social landlords. At present, a social landlord does not owe a duty of care to protect their tenants from the actions of others including other tenants.

However, in February 2008 the Court of Session in Scotland made a decision that if approved by the House of Lords could change the way social landlords deal with complaints of anti-social behaviour.

Mr Drummond moved into a house in the Moss Park estate of Glasgow in May 1985. In March 1986 Mr Mitchell and his family moved into the neighbouring house. Both properties were owned by Glasgow City Council.

Trouble began on 23 December 1994 when Mr Drummond was playing loud music in his home. Mr Mitchell banged on the wall to remonstrate. Mr Drummond retaliated and came to Mr Mitchells front door with an iron bar. Mr Drummond battered Mr Mitchells front door, leaving five holes. During Mr Drummonds arrest, he shouted that Mr Mitchell was a "dead man".

Thereafter, Mr Drummond made threats at least once a month. The Council warned Mr Drummond that he might be evicted if his behaviour did not improve. In January 2001 and again in July 2001 Mr Drummond was charged with breaching the peace following aggressive behaviour towards Mr Mitchell.

Mr Mitchell reported these incidents to the City Council and expressed his concern at their lack of activity. The Council invited Mr Drummond to a meeting which took place on 31 July 2001. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the incident in July and the service of a Notice of Seeking Possession. Given the continuing problems the Council advised Mr Drummond that they were considering possession proceedings. Mr Drummond lost his temper during the interview and became abusive. Prior to the meeting taking place the City Council did not warn Mr Mitchell about its occurrence or purpose, nor did they attempt to warn Mr Mitchell or the police about Mr Drummonds behaviour following the meeting.

On leaving the meeting, Mr Drummond returned to the Moss Park estate and he violently assaulted Mr Mitchell. subsequently on 10 August 2001 Mr Mitchell died of his injuries.

Mr Mitchells wife brought an action in the Scottish Court of Session against Glasgow City Council claiming that they had breached their duty of care to Mr Mitchell by failing to a) instigate eviction proceedings against Mr Drummond at an earlier stage; and b) warn Mr Mitchell about the meeting they arranged with Mr Drummond on 31 July 2001.

Glasgow City Council applied for the claim to be struck out on the basis that a duty of care does not arise in these circumstances. This application was successful.

However, on appeal the decision was overturned. The Court ruled that the Council may owe a duty of care to Mr Mitchell and his family and that the case should be referred to a trial court to hear all the evidence and decide whether a duty of care actually existed in this case.

It is this decision which is being appealed to the House of Lords and we shall provide you with an update when the Law Lords consider this important issue which could potentially result in wholesale changes to the anti-social behaviour policies of social landlords if the Courts ruling is upheld.

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