Unwitnessed noise complaints to be reported to landlords

Newcastle City Council is based in the Newcastle Civic Centre | Image: Wikimedia Commons

Newcastle University students could be faced with housing issues after the Students In Newcastle Forum’s Crime and Antisocial behaviour (ASB) subgroup announced that unwitnessed noise complaints will be reported directly to landlords.

In an effort to tackle anti-social behaviour in residential areas of Newcastle, Tracy McCann, a Senior Practitioner in Anti-Social Behaviour, listed a number of updates, one of which states “all landlords will, as of 2017, be informed of all complaints, even if they have not been witnessed (landlords have asked for this so they may be aware at the earliest opportunity).”

Speaking to The Courier, a spokesperson for Newcastle City Council said: “We have a duty to ensure landlords are managing their properties in accordance with the conditions of their licence and this includes the management of tenants who cause antisocial behaviour or nuisance to their neighbours.

“We believe early intervention and avoidance of future complaints is key to ensuring good neighbour relations”

Newcastle City Council Spokesperson

“As part of this we need to ensure landlords are aware of any potential issues relating to their properties so that they can provide appropriate reminders for their tenants to comply with the terms of their tenancy agreements where necessary.

“If a report of anti-social behaviour is received about an incident that has not been independently witnessed this is made clear to landlords and such a report would be insufficient grounds for a landlord to take formal action against their tenants.

“We believe early intervention and avoidance of future complaints is key to ensuring good neighbour relations and seek to avoid complaints escalating to formal action. When matters are investigated formally this would be done in line with procedures which are designed to ensure tenants are not treated unfairly.”

“This information could be a breach of the data protection act”

Sarah Craggs, NUSU Welfare and Equality Officer

According to Newcastle University Students’ Union’s Welfare and Equality Officer, Sarah Craggs, informing landlords about unwitnessed noise complaints could potentially put a number of students in difficult situations: “Whilst NUSU have been working with students and the council to tackle anti- social behaviour, I do have some concerns about this new development.

”We would need to conduct more investigatory work into this but these concerns relate to whether or not this applies to just students or all tenants, how landlords might react to this, and whether or not sharing this information could be a breach of the data protection act. I plan to work with the Student Advice Centre and the City Council to discuss these concerns and find out more about the intended purpose of this is.”

For some students, unwitnessed noise complaints have already caused unnecessary distress. Third year Electrical Engineering student Ciara Ritson-Courtney has been the recipient of a number of complaints from a neighbour.

More recently, more measures have been put in place to tackle student-related anti-social behaviour in residential areas with a high concentration of students

“Over the last two months our neighbour filed several noise complaints against us. One of them was whilst we were eating tea, and another we weren’t even in the house, so it must have been totally unfounded. I’ve already contacted by the university about it, and if this goes through then our landlord will think we’re disruptive, even though we’re not. The last thing I want is to be on the wrong side of an antagonistic landlord.”

On a regional scale, this is just the latest development about the relationship with students and the community. Earlier this year, Tracy McCann was involved in the production of a number of informative videos about house parties, which were produced because the City Council were “increasingly concerned about the nature of some parties.”

However, there have been signs of tension between local communities and students for years in Newcastle. According to The Chronicle, ‘Living and Learning in Newcastle’ Student Housing Strategy was scrapped in 2009, following feedback that claimed that it aimed “to force students out of parts of Newcastle”.

£30 fine dealt by Newcastle University for any student that has a witnessed noise complaint filed against them

That succeeded Newcastle City Council’s November 2007 ‘Interim Planning Guidance on Purpose Built Student Housing’, which outlined several pros and cons of purpose-built student accommodation in the city. One of the ‘pros’ of the accommodation that was outlined was the phenomenon of ‘destudentification’.

In the document it states “this movement could be positive in assisting Newcastle to achieve the objective of rebalancing communities, where there are existing high concentrations of students”. However, it did also acknowledge that the process of rebalancing the communities would be a long-term process.

More recently, more measures have been put in place to tackle student-related anti-social behaviour in residential areas with a high concentration of students, as The Chronicle reported “Northumbria Police have reported a hike in problem house parties making locals’ lives hell since 2016.”

“We recognise that anti-social behaviour is an ongoing issue and we continue to work with the police, council, Northumbria University, local residents and other organisations to tackle this problem”

Newcastle University Spokesperson

The Jesmond Residents’ Association website links to ‘The Student ASB Early Intervention System’, which suggests that warnings should be given to students for the first and second anti-social offences, with the third offence resulting in an ‘Acceptable Behaviour Agreement’, a “written informal intervention between the occupants, Newcastle City Council and Northumbria Police designed to engage the individual in recognising their behaviour and its negative effects on others, in order to stop such behaviour.”

However, Newcastle University have taken a more active role in recent years in an attempt to reduce anti-social behaviour of their students. Currently, a ‘reported noise disturbances and/or anti-social behaviour’ results in a caution, whilst the first witnessed offence is punishable by a written warning and individual disciplinary fine of £30.

Regarding the update announced by Tracy McCann, a spokesperson from Newcastle University said: “We recognise that anti-social behaviour is an ongoing issue and we continue to work with the police, council, Northumbria University, local residents and other organisations to tackle this problem.”

“We would always investigate the matter first to make sure that we have all the facts so we could take the most appropriate action”

Nick Clennell, Head of Property Management at Pat Robson

The update from the Crime and Antisocial behaviour (ASB) subgroup is understood to have the potential to lead to harsher consequences for Newcastle University students, who were recently revealed in a report by The Times to have been fined a total of £38,410 in relation to anti-social behaviour, the largest such figure in the country.

Though the update may put the reputation of some students at risk, Nick Clennell, Head of Property Management at Pat Robson, has told The Courier: “While we are obligated to inform our landlords of any complaints that have come to light, we would always investigate the matter first to make sure that we have all the facts so we could take the most appropriate action.”

However, students are not considered to have an entirely negative influence on local communities in Newcastle. Several businesses, including the locally run Acorn Hardware, are dependent on students, whilst some residents believe that the Keep Jesmond Clean campaign has had a positive impact on the community.

On 8th November, the ‘Jesmond Welcomes Students’ event takes place at Jesmond Library, which, according to the Facebook event, offers “the best chance for students in Jesmond to learn about what’s going on, and how they can help make a positive difference in their neighbourhood.”

Both Newcastle University and the Students’ Union continue to look to engage with the local community, whilst the SU offers advice to students through the Student Advice Centre and campaigns such as Housing Week.

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