The Tenant Farming Commissioner (“TFC”) has produced a Report following review of Buccleuch Estate’s negotiations with five of its former agricultural tenants. The Estate asked for the review following a period of heated criticism in the press from those tenants, and others.
This move from the Estate may help demonstrate that it does care about the political/PR side of things as well as the legal. From the tenants’ perspective it enabled them to voice concerns more fully to someone who was willing to and had an interest in listening, and although it cannot change the outcome, may have helped on the personal side. For the particular landlord and tenants concerned the review followed the outcomes which were found to be legally sound and cannot be reversed by the TFC (and could not be even if he had found them to be unsound). The outcome of the review has some wider implications for all landlords and tenants for the future:
The Buccleuch cases centred around termination of limited partnership agricultural tenancies and in those cases negotiations commenced before the TFC’s code was published. Had it been published at the relevant time the TFC might have had reason to find the Estate wanting in respect of two cases as a result of legal notices being served too close to the date of a first meeting between landlord and tenant. This can be challenging for the landlord where strict legal notice periods apply and a great deal of organisation would be required to ensure sufficient time for discussion in advance of notice being served. It also emphasises another point made by the TFC – that ongoing tenancies should be kept under review and each party should inform the other of their aspirations so as to try to avoid unwelcome surprises.
- Communication and engagement with affected tenants and the way in which changes to the status quo are handled are very important particularly if there might be a perception on the tenant’s part that there will be no change to his/her tenancy.
- Mediation should be considered and offered where there is likely to be differences in views/perceptions
- In larger scale reorganisations considerable pre-planning and a communications strategy may be necessary in order to comply with the Codes of Practice.
For those acting for landlords and tenants it can be a difficult balancing exercise to ensure that political/PR considerations are respected alongside legal and business requirements, particularly when considering the impact of those requirements on the wider community. In this Report the TFC confirms that the land reform legislation and the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement demonstrate the impetus in encouraging a balance between public and private interests in land. In other words, these types of consideration, although not (at least currently) legal requirements, are here to stay. Those considering business restructuring and /or termination of agricultural tenancies should have regard to the terms of the Report as well as the Codes of Practise.