Scottish Land & Estates urges landlords to give maximum time and certainty to tenants.
Scottish Land & Estates today appealed to the agricultural industry to avoid being dragged into a ‘phoney war’ over fixed term tenancies that could jeopardise the future of the tenanted sector.
The landowners’ organisation also called on landlords to provide tenants with ‘maximum notice and certainty’ over agreements that are due to come to an end and to have regular dialogue with each other.
The Scottish Parliament is currently considering a number of measures as part of the Land Reform Bill that will have far-reaching ramifications for tenant farming including the establishment of modern limited duration tenancies, the conversion of secure tenancies to long-term fixed term tenancies and widening of succession rights on secure tenancies.
“The fact that complex agricultural legislation has been thrust into the Land Reform Bill has led to a great deal of polarised and ill-informed debate about farm tenancies”, said David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates. “The Parliament’s Rural Affairs and Climate Change committee and the Scottish Government are in the process of giving these measures very detailed scrutiny. However, there is a lot of rhetoric being generated outside the parliamentary process.
“This rhetoric, often from land reform activists, is not well informed when it comes to agricultural law and we have now even heard suggestions that landlords should not be able to resume land at the end of previously agreed fixed-term arrangements. All this is doing is muddying the waters, creating further uncertainty in the sector and damaging confidence to let land. The last thing the farming industry needs is to be dragged into a phoney war about fixed terms tenancies. If the legitimacy of fixed term tenancies is not protected, it will in all likelihood have an impact on land being brought forward for let.
“We should all be clear in our minds that a fixed term tenancy is what it says it is. A farmer rents a holding for a period of time and if the landlord and tenant voluntarily come to an agreement to enter a new lease or if the landowner wants to extend the lease, that is all well and good. The Scottish Government’s own survey of tenant/landlord relationships shows that 85% get along well together so there should be few problems there. However, if a landowner wants to resume the farm that he owns at the end of fixed period then they should be free to do that – just as any landlord would do with someone renting a commercial property. Not to allow this to happen would remove the much needed flexibility that letting land allows for both landowners and farmers.
“The future of tenant farming is of critical importance to Scottish agriculture and collectively we must do our best to create the right conditions for the next generation of farmers. We understand that farmers have a close connection with the land they farm and if a long-term tenancy is coming to an end then best practice is to give as much notice and provide as much certainty as possible. We would urge all landlords and their agents to adopt this approach. As it stands, the notice required to be given to limited duration tenancy agreements is between two and three years. In the vast majority of circumstances this is a reasonable notice period for the parties to plan ahead and landlords should look at the maximum period possible.
“The principle of longer leases is sound and is supported by public policy, existing legislation and provisions in the current Bill. Longer leases also reflect the fact that farming is not a quick turnaround business. We need a framework that generates confidence to let. Larger estates generally have all their land let so confidence needs to be given to owner occupiers. Landlords need to know that a fixed term is exactly that.”
Scottish Land & Estates also appealed to the Scottish Government to look beyond the rhetoric surrounding the case of Andrew Stoddart, a tenant in East Lothian whose limited partnership agreement is due to end this weekend.
David Johnstone said: “We are aware there have been a number of discussions held and offers have been made to the tenant both in terms of compensation for improvements and being able to continue residing in the farmhouse until alternative accommodation has been found. Mr Stoddart does not need to leave the house on the expiry date of the farm tenancy and mediation should continue with the Colstoun Trust and the Scottish Government to resolve issues such as compensation.”