The Tenant Farming Commissioner, Dr Bob McIntosh, lodged his report with the Scottish Ministers in April 2018 on “A Review of the Conduct of Agents of Agricultural Landlords and Tenants”.

Section 36 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016

The report was required in terms of Section 36 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, and the report noted that “good agents helped to facilitate a productive business and personal relationship between landlords and tenants but anecdotal evidence has suggested that insensitive and inappropriate behaviour by some agents has led to souring of the landlord/tenant relationship”. The aim of the review was to obtain “independent and objective data” on how landlords and tenants view the conduct of agents on either side.

As part of this process, 121 landlords and 914 tenants were consulted in a first round, and in a second round those landlords and tenants who had expressed dissatisfaction with the conduct of an agent were consulted for a second time.

98% Tenant Satisfaction

One of the outcomes of the survey was that only 1% of landlords took the view that the relationship with the other party was fairly or very poor, and 6% of tenants arrived at the same conclusion. Another interesting outcome was that there was almost total satisfaction on the part of both landlords and tenants for their own agents. 98% of tenants interviewed were satisfied with the advice from the professional agents – 95% of landlords were similarly satisfied. Perhaps one of the most reliable indicators of professional conduct is the view of the instructing client of the professional and it is interesting that, on both sides, the standards of satisfaction are extremely high. 

Scottish Land Commission

However, in the summary from the Scottish Land Commission, it was highlighted that 17% of tenants and landlords were dissatisfied with the conduct of an agent. The report indicated that, at the heart of many of the problems are “poor interpersonal skills” on the part of the agent. This is an area fraught with potential difficulty. Questions over the perception of “interpersonal skills” are very subjective. Beauty (or otherwise) is often in the eye of the beholder. It is difficult to see how any professional body (or the Land Commission) could legislate on that sort of subject. 

Instructing Professional Agents

This raises again the interesting question of the conflict between (a) the professional (and contractual) commitments of an agent to their client, and (b) the requirements of various items of Land Reform “soft law” (such as the Codes of Conduct issued by the Land Commission). Of course, many owners of property (rural, urban, commercial, residential, and so on) instruct professional agents to represent their interests. In most cases, those different agents will be represented by the same professional body (i.e. the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors), and will be subject to the same professional requirements. A commercial agent representing, say, the tenant of a barber shop under a commercial lease in, say, a rent review negotiation with the landlord will seek to do his or her job in the best interests of their client. In all likelihood their interpersonal skills will not be scrutinised. The interesting development highlighted by the Tenant Farming Commissioner’s Report is that a rural agent acting in an analagous landlord and tenant transaction will potentially be subject to much greater scrutiny.