22 October, 2010
A Merseyside tenant has been given an Anti Social Behaviour Order for two years following incidents where her dog was set upon parents and children as they walked from a nearby school, according to a report in Inside Housing. The tenant, from Aigburth in Liverpool, is now barred from walking her dog without a lead or a muzzle in a specified part of the city. It was also said that the individual trained the Staffordshire bull terrier to attack police officers.
This report shows what steps can be considered by social landlords in order to prevent anti social behaviour being caused by tenants and their pets. In recent months there have been a number of accounts of adults and children being attacked by dogs. Indeed, prior to the General Election, the Government had created a consultation about making changes to the legislation relating to dangerous dogs, which included the potential for the compulsory micro chipping of all breeds.
Obtaining an Anti Social Behaviour Order against the tenant is just one of the options available for consideration by landlords. It is also not only aggressive dogs which can be dealt with by legal remedies: nuisance behaviour, which can be caused for example by dog fouling or by constant barking, can also be tackled in this manner.
There have been cases in recent months where the courts have considered applications for possession due to tenants keeping animals at the property in question (Joseph v Nettleton Road Housing Co-operative Limited  EWCA Civ 228 and Thomas-Ashley v Drum Housing Association  EWCA Civ 265). There have been other unreported examples of possession orders being granted, such as at Oxford County Court where an order was made against a tenant who had kept 38 dogs at his three-bedroom semi-detached property.
Landlords often operate a complete ban on pets at their accommodation or do allow the keeping of pets only with their consent. However, tenants may breach their tenancy agreements by keeping dogs at their property, or doing so without permission. In appropriate circumstances, a court may be willing to grant an order for possession. It should be noted though that the court must be satisfied that it is reasonable to do so and so efforts to engage with the tenant prior to any legal action should be encouraged.
In other situations, it may be more suitable to consider applying for an injunction from the court. It is open to social landlords to seek an Anti Social Behaviour Injunction (ASBI) against a tenant if, for example, their pet is responsible for noise nuisance which breaches the tenancy agreement.
Under the Housing Act 1996, it is possible for social landlords to seek injunctions to prevent further breaches of the tenancy agreement. Such a remedy would be of potential use where the tenancy agreement in question has specific clauses preventing the keeping of animals.
Evidence would need to be obtained which highlights the provisions of the tenancy agreement, the behaviour of the animal, the problems being caused to neighbours and to the landlord, and the efforts that have previously been made to deal with the situation. It is important to show that other options were attempted before legal action began.
One of the most common forms of nuisance created by a dog is constant barking. Whilst complaints under this 'head' are dealt with by local authorities, prudent social landlords may still wish to be aware of the details. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, local authorities have a duty to take reasonable steps to investigate noise nuisance. If satisfied that such a nuisance exists, or is likely to occur or recur, an Environmental Health Officer must serve an abatement notice requiring the abatement or restriction of the nuisance. Failure to comply with the terms of the notice can lead to a maximum fine of £5,000 being imposed upon the individual.
There are a number of steps which can be taken by social landlords in order to tackle dangerous animals and pets being kept at properties. Early engagement with the tenant is important and steps should be taken to try to resolve the matter before commencing legal action. Any references made in the tenancy agreement to whether pets can be kept by tenants should also be noted.