When illegal drug activity in the private rented sector is discussed, we are automatically drawn to images of old terraced houses with lofts or basements converted into Cannabis farms or deprived areas with boarded up property. We do not usually picture new, clean, well presented apartments in high-end developments.
A Build-to-Rent apartment complex with an onsite management team is unlikely to have a problem with Cannabis farms, but it may still be affected by other drug related problems. Residents and/or their visitors personally using illegal drugs within the building, distribution of illegal drugs from within the building or in the vicinity and the storage of drugs in apartments, are a few of the issues which could arise.
This article discusses how, once you become aware of illegal drug activity, you can use a three step process to identity the category of impact, assess the risk caused by it and what action can then be taken.
Identifying the category of community impact
Below are three examples (there are of course many more) of impact for each category of anti-social behaviour:
Nuisance (captures incidents where an act, condition, thing or person causes trouble, annoyance, irritation, inconvenience, offence or suffering to the local community):
- Strong smelling and toxic fumes entering the neighbouring apartments, balconies and hallways affecting other residents enjoyment of their home
- Unknown visitors entering the building grounds for the purpose of purchasing or collecting drugs (for distribution) from the resident or selling drugs to the resident, which may lead to residents being placed at risk of harm, with an increased risk to vulnerable persons such as minors.
- Use of drugs in communal areas leading to drug paraphernalia being left unattended causing a risk to others.
Personal (captures incidents that are perceived as either deliberately targeted at an individual or group, or having an impact on an individual or group rather than the community at large):
- Inappropriate or violent acts towards residents or staff due to intoxicated related behaviour.
- Threats of violence and intimidating behaviour towards residents who may become aware illegal drug activity is taking place.
- Vigilante behaviour from the residents towards the drug using/distributing resident, if no action is being taken by management or the police.
Environmental (captures incidents where individuals or groups have an impact on their surroundings, including natural, built and social environments):
- The health and safety risk in relation to toxic fumes and other substances on surfaces and in the air.
- Breach of basic fire safety rules relating to smoking in non-designated places on the property.
- Social spaces being closed, or cameras installed and reducing privacy, to limit the locations where incidents can take place.
Assess and decide the level of risk to the community
This method uses a three tier structure: serious (red), moderate (amber) and minor (green) risk.
When establishing the risk for this subject, the key factors to consider are: the location of the activity, the frequency of the activity and the ability for any toxic/dangerous substance or item to come into contact with other residents, staff or visitors.
Illegal drug use should never be considered a minor risk and would usually only be a moderate risk if it is a one-off occurrence of personal recreational drug use or similar. Illegal drug activity not only impacts the community, but it can have major long term impact upon the reputation of the development and the landlord/operators business.
Some examples assigned to each risk category are as follows (you will note the limited use of minor and moderate risk):
Serious Risk (the safety / harmony of the community is at serious risk)
- Resident receives regular visitors inside the building for the purpose of buying from or selling drugs to the visitor.
- Resident or their visitors regularly smokes drugs in their apartment or communal areas.
- Resident threatened and intimidated members of the community to ensure they remain silent about the illegal activity
- Resident failed to dispose of drug paraphernalia (needles, smoked items, storage bags) in a safe manner.
Moderate Risk (the safety / harmony of the community was at serious risk or is at moderate risk)
- One recorded incident of a resident’s personal recreational drug use.
- One recorded incident relating to personal drug use by a visitor of a resident.
Minor Risk (the safety / harmony of the community is or was at minor risk)
Establish the appropriate response and take action
As with most situations involving anti-social behaviour, the suitable response will differ based on the severity of the incident(s) reported.
Where moderate risk is concerned, it is likely that a warning letter would be appropriate. The warning letter would detail the incident explaining to the resident what action will be taken if there are any further occurrences, such as ending their tenancy.
Where there is a serious risk, proceed immediately to a final warning letter and also consider service of a section 8 notice citing the relevant grounds for possession (and also a section 21 notice if this option is available).
If the tenant fails to cease the illegal activity after service of any possession notice, the next action will be to consider if it is appropriate to commence possession proceedings via the Courts, and what process to use to achieve the most suitable result. It should be noted that the Court has the power to deal with a section 8 possession claim on an EXPEDITED basis in the most serious cases of anti-social behaviour.
Your Community Impact Policy
To assist with managing incidents of this nature your Community Impact Policy should include the following three key processes:
1. The effective recording of incidents, including what information should be noted and by who and what evidence is required to be obtained and stored – such as photos of drug paraphernalia.
2.Pre-approved template letters specifically for moderate and serious drug related incidents, to prevent any delay in the issuing of warning letters.
3.A local policing team relationship strategy, to ensure you have support when it is needed. Having a good relationship with the local policing team is particularly beneficial when further information is needed for court action against a resident. Furthermore, having a regular visit from the Police in support of a ‘Neighbourhood Watch Scheme’ may help deter criminal and other anti-social behaviour.
An effective Community Impact Policy provides operational teams with the confidence to swiftly respond to incidents as and when they occur, and should ensure the brand of the business is protected.
Coronavirus Related Note
The Coronavirus Act 2020 currently imposes an extended notice period (three months) in relation to both section 8 and section 21 notices, and the Courts temporary Practice Directions restrict possession related claims being progressed until the end of June. If any serious incidents occur within your development, which place any persons at further risk of harm, there are options which can still be considered and your legal advisors will be able to assist.