On 20th October 2014 s.80 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 came into force. The provision enables either a local authority or the police to make an application to a magistrates’ court for a Closure Order which can significantly limit who is permitted to access the property. An application can be made where the applicant suspects or has reason to suspect that the occupiers of the premises are engaging in anti-social behaviour. This is a new power that has not yet been widely tested in the English Courts.
The powers under s.80 allow for a Closure Notice to be served on a premises for up to 48 hours. During that time access to the premises is prohibited for any persons other than those who habitually reside in the premises or the owner of the premises. An application must be made to the Magistrate Court for a full Closure Order no later than 48 hours after the service of the Closure Notice, ie. before the notice runs out.
When deciding on whether to grant a Closure Order the Court must be satisfied that:
(a) a person at the premises has or probably will take part in anti-social behaviour, or
(b) that the premises has or is likely to be used in a way which is or could be a nuisance to the public, or
(c) that the use of the premises is ,or would probably create, nuisance or disorder.
The Court must also be satisfied that the making of an Order is necessary to prevent the behaviour, nuisance or disorder from continuing, recurring or occurring. However, it seems that the threshold adopted by the Court in these circumstances is pretty low.
If the Court makes a Closure Order then access to the property can be prohibited for a period of up to 3 months. Access will be prohibited to all persons other than those specified in the Order, usually the owner of the property for the purposes of maintenance. Any breach of the Order could result in further criminal prosecution. If an Order is made on a rented property then this would effectively mean a loss of rental income for up to 3 months. For a leaseholder of a flat this could have more serious consequences with the possibility of an application for forfeiture by the freeholder for breach of the lease.
Anthony Gold were recently instructed by the leaseholder of a flat in South London who rented the property privately to tenants. The leaseholder and his agent was served with a Closure Notice and an application was made to the magistrates’ Court by the Police who had substantial evidence that the tenants were operating a brothel from the flat. The Order was defended on the basis that the tenants had now left the property. The situation was made worse by the fact that the managing agents for the block of flats were indicating that they might seek to forfeit the flat lease as well.
This a relatively new piece of legislation that allows local authorities and the police to close down premises linked to anti-social behaviour. It is expected that more Closure Notices will be issued in an attempt to crack down on such behaviour. Landlords and letting agents need to be pro-active if anti-social behaviour such as drug taking or brothels are suspected in their property. Closure Orders will be heard by a magistrates court within 48 hours of service so legal advice should be sought promptly to avoid closure.