Bristol City Council has published an online guide to help landlords deal with anti-social behaviour by their tenants, including noise and waste issues.
The guide covers all forms of privately rented property—but by definition that includes students in licensed HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation).
Its guidance is presented on a “best practice” basis, meaning that the advice sometimes goes beyond the legally mandated requirements for HMOs, offering suggestions that landlords might adopt voluntarily.
A brief section covering student accommodation advises landlords to contact university community liaison teams if there are problems with student tenants. It includes links to both the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.
In a parallel development, UoB now routinely contacts landlords or property agents when it’s dealing with complaints from the public about students living at a particular address. The aim is to ensure that actions by landlords (or agents) and the university reinforce each other to resolve the problem.
While the guide is aimed at landlords, it could also prove useful to residents. In effect, it sets out the standards that landlords and agents are expected to meet, so a resident writing a complaint email could provide a link to the guide and use it to support a request for action to be taken.
It was produced by the council’s Private Housing Service (PHS), which is also the department in charge of HMO licensing. PHS discussed its plans for the guide at a meeting of the Bristol Student Community Partnership in October last year and invited residents’ representatives to provide feedback on the draft document. (Disclosure: I provided detailed comments as one of those representatives.)
Here are some highlights from the guide:
Anti-social behaviour (ASB) is defined as “conduct by people occupying or visiting residential property that causes or is likely to cause a nuisance or annoyance to people in the vicinity”.
A list of examples includes “Verbal abuse and offensive behaviour … Waste bins and boxes being left on the streets following collection … Unreasonable and persistent noise”.
The guide says: “Landlords must take reasonable steps to prevent, identify and manage anti-social behaviour caused by tenants in their properties.”
Landlords or agents managing HMOs are bound by legally enforceable licence conditions, set out at https://www.bristol.gov.uk/business/licences-and-permits/property-licences/licences-standards-and-conditions. (See the “Mandatory” conditions for HMOs housing 5 people or more, and the “Central Area” conditions for those housing 3 or 4 people.)
Helpfully, the guide urges landlords to advise tenants how to live in a neighbourly way: “Prior to the tenancy the landlord should make clear to the tenant their responsibilities, obligations, and the importance of consideration to neighbours.” For good measure, it adds: “Best practice is to meet with the tenant in person.”
Landlords are encouraged to consider ways to reduce sound transmission from their property to a neighbouring one, such as putting carpets on floors or using other mitigation measures. The guide links to a list of measures I submitted to the council in 2020 and which were adopted in an HMO planning document.
The fact that the guide covers both licensed and unlicensed properties that are subject to different legal requirements could lead to confusion in some instances.
For example, during discussions on the guide, it was clarified that in HMOs the legal responsibility for providing waste bins, boxes and bags—and replacing any that are broken or lost—is a matter for the landlord, whereas at non-licensed properties it lies with the tenant. However, the guide presents the higher standard as best practice for all properties.
Yet in another instance, the guide seems to lean the other way. It says landlords “should” seek references for new tenants and that these requests “can” include questions relating to ASB. However, for HMO landlords, the licence conditions stipulate that landlords are expected to “require” a reference, and that it “should” cover any history of ASB. (In relation to students, this is complicated by UoB’s refusal to disclose students’ disciplinary records—which landlords say prevents them weeding out potentially troublesome tenants. This is currently under discussion at the BSCP.)
In another case, it says landlords “should” provide their contact details to occupants of neighbouring properties so people can get in touch if there are problems. But this is a legal requirement in the case of HMOs. However, the guide does also add a potentially useful voluntary step (requested in the resident feedback on the draft): “Landlords may also consider providing out of hours contact details, particularly where there is a history of anti-social behaviour at night.”
If you have comments on how well (or not) the guidance works in practice, please contact me (Andrew Waller) at email@example.com.