Helen Sage reports
Local government housing lawyers have welcomed the national publicity given to the eviction of nuisance neighbours from council accommodation in Manchester last week.
Public sector housing solicitors hope the cases, in which Salford County Court ordered Manchester City Council to repossess the homes of a family and a teenage girl, will encourage more council tenants to give evidence in court about nuisance neighbours.
Jo Miller, Liverpool City Council senior housing solicitor, said: "This is a situation which can be as serious as domestic violence. In the last two or three years more cases have reached legal proceedings but there is still the problem of persuading witnesses to give evidence in the face of threats from defendants."
Vicki Buckley, a solicitor at Coventry City Council, which encourages the eviction of disruptive tenants, said: "The courts do seem to be taking notice now as a result of increased public awareness but there is still a lot that can be done especially in protecting the victims of anti-social behaviour who are reluctant to complain."
The Manchester cases coincide with the current parliamentary debate over the Housing Bill, which proposes better protection for tenants against nuisance neighbours and new guidance by the Department of the Environment to help councils make better use of the court system when evicting anti-social tenants.
Delyth Jenkins Evans, principal solicitor at Plymouth City Council, where only about three eviction cases a year reach the legal department, said the problem with present litigation was that it took too long and courts were sometimes unsympathetic towards people who were subjected to anti-social behaviour.
"Courts need to get a grip of the fact that it is absolute hell for the other tenants," she said.
Sue Chaplin, housing solicitor at Manchester, is confident about future council litigation against anti-social tenants: "We are unique in having a neighbourhood response team which is why we have been successful in bringing cases to court. The most important thing is to encourage and support other tenants in giving evidence."
The Housing Bill promises to remedy the present situation by speeding up the eviction process, not requiring victims to give evidence and setting up a 12-month probation period for new council tenants.
Vivien Jackson, housing solicitor at Salford City Council, said: "Until it is tried and tested it is difficult to say whether the Bill's proposals will have any effect on eviction proceedings. Many tenants will not cause problems until they have been in their homes for 12 months."
Tony Austin, solicitor to Nottingham City Council, said: "While we welcome what is proposed in the Housing Bill, we are still concerned about the length of time it takes to bring about a successful eviction, about the protection of victims and witnesses, and the need for specialist judges."