Problem tenants, Therapeutic Jurisprudence and mainstream housing courts

In this blog Michel Vols discusses his project in which TJ-principles and techniques are used in cases concerning nuisance behaviour that are dealt with by mainstream housing courts in the Netherlands.

Quality of life offences and housing related anti-social behavior such as noise nuisance, harassment, hoarding, the cultivation of cannabis and small-scale drug dealing can have devastating effects on neighbors. In the Netherlands, landlords have the power to obtain an eviction order from the housing court if a tenant causes serious nuisance to other residents. After obtaining this eviction order, the landlord is entitled to remove the anti-social tenant from the premises. Every year Dutch landlords request approximately 1500 eviction orders from the courts because of serious housing related anti-social behaviour

Research shows that this eviction-centred approach has detrimental and problem-generating effects for the anti-social tenant and his victims. The physical and mental wellbeing of the tenant and his family are seriously affected by the threat of homelessness. The underlying causes of the anti-social behavior (e.g. substance abuse, (mental) health problems, lack of social skills, family issues, unemployment and poverty) are not addressed in a problem-solving way. Moreover, eviction is a very drastic instrument, which takes away early intervention as an option. Victims will have many years of sleepless nights before the problem is finally tackled. That is why the eviction-centred approach has serious negative effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of the victims too. Furthermore, an eviction has a huge financial impact on landlords and local authorities.

Applying TJ in housing law cases concerning nuisance

Making a tenant homeless just displaces the problem and does not solve the underlying causes of the nuisance behavior. An eviction does not have any therapeutic effect for the tenants or for his victims. For that reason, we started a project to apply Dutch housing law in a more solution-oriented way in 2013. We developed an innovative solution-oriented approach that emphasizes landlords and courts to target nuisance behaviour at an early stage, without using eviction. The intervention should be focused on the tackling the underlying causes of the problem. Instead of making tenants homeless, therapeutic jurisprudence techniques – such as motivational interviewing, behavioral contracting and judicial monitoring – should be incorporated in the housing court procedure.

The project

First, we analyzed whether the Dutch legal rules and legal procedures (“the bottles”) are receptive to TJ professional practices and techniques (“the wine”). If the wine cannot be poured into the bottles — cases where the legal rules are considered “TJ-unfriendly”—we must urge the legislature to revise the current legal rules and procedures  (Learn more about the mainstreaming TJ “wine & bottles” methodology).

Fortunately, Dutch tenancy law and procedures are flexible and therefore relatively TJ-friendly. There is no statutory obligation to tackle housing related anti-social behavior with an eviction order. On the contrary, Dutch housing law offers several other provisions and instruments to use in a solution-oriented approach. For example, the Dutch Civil Code entitles the landlord to request a behavioral order from the housing court if the tenant does not comply with statutory or contractual obligations. The housing court is entitled to issue an order that compels the tenant to carry out a specific obligatory performance, if asked for by a landlord.

Second, we started to build a network of practitioners that work for landlords, municipalities, the police and mental healthcare agencies. We organized several conferences where we discussed the new solution-oriented approach. Moreover, we organized a conference with district court judges and discussed the possibilities to use TJ-oriented techniques instead of evicting an anti-social tenant and his family. This was a very successful meeting and the judges were also willing to participate. Furthermore, Members of Parliament endorsed our project. Lastly, the project received the most votes of the public in HiiL Innovating Justice Awards competition in 2013.

Next steps

In 2014, we found municipalities, landlords and their lawyers willing to experiment and participate. Currently, we help landlords to implement the new approach and initiate procedures all over the country in order to help both the victims of anti-social behaviour and the problem tenants. We hope to present the first results in the beginning of 2015. Moreover, the Dutch Minister of Justice referred to the project several times and together with the Ministry of Justice we are currently exploring how we can enlarge the impact of the project and evaluate the results.

In the majority of jurisdictions this kind of anti-social behaviour will be tackled with criminal law instruments instead of tenancy law. So the experiences with applying TJ in mainstream housing courts could be useful for other jurisdictions and other areas of law as well. I urge interested persons to read the full essay about this project, available online here.

What do you think about the project? If you have any questions or suggestions, please post your comment below or contact me: Michel Vols m.vols@rug.nl

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This entry was posted in civil law, courts, housing & tenancy, property & planning, Wine & Bottles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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