Anti-social behaviour in the private housing sector

Published: 2 October 2002

University of Glasgow research confirms that anti-social behaviour can occur in all types of tenure.

The problem of 'neighbours from hell' is often seen as an issue which mainly affects council tenants. However recently published research from the University of Glasgow confirms that anti-social behaviour can occur in all types of tenure.

The study found that up to 10,000 owners in Scotland suffer such serious problems with their neighbours that they want to move. Those in high-income areas and people living in rural areas were least likely to have problems while the first-time buyer end of the owner-occupied market and those in the private rented sector suffered considerably.

The complaints ranged from noise, parties, youths hanging around, boundary disputes, car-repairs and vandalism. Complaints about racial harassment have been rising but there was still felt to be considerable under-reporting of this problem. Although students and young people are often thought to be particularly problematic neighbours, the findings show that they often give less cause for complaint than families with children.

The research found that there are a number of legal remedies available to those in the private sector who have problems with their neighbours but little evidence that these were used. In some cases, this was because people do not want to exacerbate the situation by starting legal action. In others cases, they may not be aware that legal remedies exist. However, many people may be put off by the financial cost involved.

Advocate Derek O'Carroll, one of the report authors, said:

'There is a lack of a coherent system of affordable legal advice and assistance for those with middle income. Only those who are very poor or very rich have access to legal services in practice. Instead, people may turn to the police and local authorities which have considerable legal powers through the criminal law, planning and environmental health legislation to deal with such problems.

However, many agencies are unwilling to use their powers to deal with complaints of neighbour nuisance. Some thought that it would be a waste of time because they felt that the Procurator Fiscal Service gave such cases very low priority and would often refuse to prosecute. Others were reluctant to use their statutory powers to respond to disputes between individuals. In effect, this means that many owner-occupiers and tenants in the private sector don't have access to either private or public legal remedies.'

The authors suggested the need for some changes in legislation. However, they felt that these were unlikely to work unless people could gain access to justice. Report co-author, Suzie Scott, Senior Lecturer in Housing at the University of Glasgow said:

'We have to ensure that people can get help to solve problems with their neighbours. This means reform of the legal aid system in Scotland to ensure that they can take action. But there is also a need for agencies to work together more effectively and for an integrated system of free legal advice services, as operated in England.

In addition, many problems could be solved at an early stage if there was access to trained mediators. Such services in Scotland, where they exist, remain patchy and some only serve council tenants. The Scottish Executive, local councils and the police should support the development of a national network of mediation services which would provide help to both tenants and owners'.

Media Relations Office (

The full report: ?Anti-Social Behaviour in the Private Sector In Scotland: Problems And Remedies? is available on the web at: Urban Studies

Further information can be obtained from:

Suzie Scott, Senior Lecturer in Housing Studies Department of Urban Studies, Glasgow University Tel: 0141 330 6162

Alternatively, please contact the University Press Office on 0141 330 3535.

First published: 2 October 2002

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