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Misunderstanding agricultural tenancy can result in termination

View profile for Caroline Dowding
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The recent finding in the case of Auliffe and others v Ellis provides a stern reminder to agricultural landlords and tenants alike about the importance of understanding your agricultural tenancy.

On the death of a tenant, tenancies under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 (“AHA”) can succeed to an ‘eligible person’. This person must be:

  1. a close relative of the deceased tenant
  2. their only or principal source of livelihood derived from agricultural work on the farm under the tenancy for at least five of the seven years preceding the death of the tenant
  3. not an occupier of other commercial or agricultural land

In this case, Mr David Ellis had farmed Teign Marsh Farm from 1968 until 2013, when he passed away. Richard Ellis, his son, contended that he satisfied the above, though this was not investigated to any degree – on account of the error outlined below.

Within three months from the date of death of the tenant, any eligible person must apply to a Tribunal for a tenancy in succession. Alternatively, they must obtain clarification from the Tribunal that they are an eligible person. Incorrectly believing that they had no requirement to do so, David Ellis’ wife and Richard Ellis made no such application.

It transpired that the landlords of the tenancy, the Auliffe family, thus served a notice to quit upon Mrs Ellis and thus terminated the tenancy. This is a step that they are entitled to take within three months of being informed of the death of the tenant. This notice cannot be refuted and, consequently, the tenancy terminated on expiry of the notice.

Although Mrs Ellis and Richard Ellis claimed not to have received the notice, in any event, they failed to take the necessary steps within three months of the passing of David Ellis. Had they done so, and indeed Richard Ellis was an eligible person as he claimed, then he would likely have succeeded the tenancy. As it is, Richard Ellis lost his right to the tenancy in succession.

This case did not find any new law. Instead, it serves to emphasise the importance that both landlords and tenants understand their options, obligations and responsibilities that come with an Agriculture Holdings Act 1986 tenancy and, of course, the inflexible timescales.

If you have any queries or concerns regarding your agricultural tenancy and any succession planning, please contact our specialist agriculture and estates lawyers. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217602 or thomas.lee@birkettlong.co.uk.

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