‘I think my neighbour is running a brothel – what can I do?’

ask a lawyer neighbour running a brothel
ask a lawyer neighbour running a brothel

Do you have a legal question to put to Gary? Email money@telegraph.co.uk or use the form at the bottom of the page.

Dear Gary,

We live in an Edwardian purpose-built mansion block where one unit was renovated, sold, then rented out.

Ever since the tenants moved in a couple of months ago, neighbours have noticed many random males coming and going day and night, staying for an hour or less. They sometimes buzz the wrong flats, and carry alcohol on their person.

There are CCTV cameras mounted at the estate gates (although without any “CCTV in operation” signage). Some neighbours have door cams as well.

In addition to the unpleasantness, we fear such business could easily bring drug dealings and who knows what else. We all feel very unsafe and disturbed.

Please advise what we can do to stop this kind of activities. The owners of the offending flat have been made aware of the situation by our management company. They have visited the flat (finding nothing questionable), and have supposedly written a letter to their tenants, spelling out that such “immoral” business would be in breach of the tenancy.

We’ve heard nothing since, but the business carries on with male visitors.

Your thoughts and advice would be much appreciated.

– Tom, by email

Dear Tom,

Your question is worded very delicately, but it is clear your concern is the newly renovated flat in your otherwise sedate block is being used as a brothel.

If that is correct, it is clearly a very serious criminal offence, and the police should be asked to investigate.

Under section 33a of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (SOA 1956), it is an offence “for a person to keep, or to manage, or act or assist in the management of, a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution (whether or not also for other practices)” – and the maximum sentence is seven years imprisonment.

There is no statutory definition of a “brothel”. But applying the case of Stevens v Christy [1987], to successfully prosecute it is likely to require two or more persons to occupy the same premises simultaneously for the purposes of prostitution.

Of course, you and your neighbours observing what is going on and the police gaining hard evidence to prosecute are two different things.

But you do need to go down the route of a police report, not least because other distressing situations, such as offences under section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 – trafficking for sexual exploitation – may be taking place. Such offences carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

It is disappointing the owners of the flat are turning a blind eye to what is going on. You should point out to them that under section 34 of the SOA 1956 it is a criminal offence for a “landlord of any premises or his agent to let the whole or part of the premises with the knowledge that it is to be used, in whole or in part, as a brothel, or, where the whole or part of the premises is used as a brothel, to be wilfully a party to that use continuing”.

All of which means that turning a blind eye could see the flat owner prosecuted as well. I am setting out the law above because I suggest you quote it to the police so as to kick start their investigation.

The CCTV and door cams on site may be able to supply evidence to be used by the police in terms of the comings and goings from the flat. I assume the management company controls the CCTV.

As you hint at, it is unlawful for CCTV to record data without clear signage to say recording is taking place and why (presumably for “security reasons”). So, the management company should remedy this forthwith, especially so the persons frequenting the flat of interest may not complain of a breach of their personal data.

In this case, they could ask the government body which supervises the general data protection regulations (GDPR), namely the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), to fine the management company.

Likewise, the owners of door cams are “data controllers”, so far as the ICO are concerned, and should be aware of their legal responsibilities in that regard.

The burden of proof regarding criminal prosecutions is “beyond reasonable doubt” so the police will seek evidence to that degree. The burden of proof with civil matters is “on the balance of probability” so is a lesser burden.

If the police find evidence to prosecute, you will on the face of it have sufficient reason to ask the management company to intervene based on a breach of the so-called “covenants” (promises) in the lease all flat owners are signed up to.

I have not seen the precise wording of the leases for your mansion block, but it would be extraordinary for a lease of this nature not to include a covenant “not to use the flat for immoral purposes” or similar wording, and you indicate this is indeed the case here.

The ultimate threat with breaches of the lease is forfeiture, which means losing the lease because it reverts back to the freeholder. Hence forfeiture equates to losing the value of the flat, so it’s a threat the flat owner should sit up and listen to.

If you have a management company you control as flat owners because you’re shareholders in it, it will be more straightforward for you to insist on the immoral conduct being investigated.

But even if you are not shareholders in the management company, if a high proportion of flat owners report concerns they should be acted upon. So, it will help if you can encourage collective action.

In summary, report these goings on to the police and even if they decide there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute, go down the route to the management company putting pressure on the flat owner through the forfeiture procedure.

Ask a Lawyer should not be taken as formal legal advice, but rather as a starting point for readers to undertake their own further research.

Advertisement