As we specialise in agricultural law, a situation we come across fairly regularly is where a client wants advice about the basis on which a farmworker is occupying a farm cottage. Normally the occupier is not paying any rent and there is no written agreement.
Whenever the occupier is a farmworker the first thing to think about is what legislation governs their occupation, because farmworkers can benefit from a high degree of protection conferred by statute. Broadly speaking, if their occupation started before 15 January 1989 the legislation that applies is likely to be the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976, and if their occupation started after that date the applicable legislation is likely to be the Housing Act 1988. If the latter applies, subject to the occupier meeting the necessary conditions (see below), they could well be occupying under an assured agricultural occupancy (AAO).
Although we do still see Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 tenancies, for the purposes of this article we will focus on AAOs.
In order for an occupier to qualify as an assured agricultural occupier, they need to be a qualifying worker, there needs to be a qualifying tenancy, and the property needs to be in qualifying ownership.
At some point during their occupation of the property, the occupier needs to have been a serving farmworker, and have been employed in agriculture 91/104 weeks for a minimum of 35 hours a week (ie., full-time).
They also need to have been occupying either under an assured tenancy (or one that would be but for the fact that a low, or no, rent is being paid) or under a licence where they have exclusive possession of the dwelling house.
Finally, the farmworker must be either being housed by their employer, or the housing needs to have been arranged by their employer.
If these conditions all overlap at some point during the occupier’s occupation of the property they are likely to qualify as an assured agricultural occupier and gain the protection that an AAO affords. The main elements of this protection are that in order for their landlord to recover possession they will normally have to make out one of the grounds in Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988, which can be difficult, and that an AAO can be succeeded to by the tenant’s spouse or civil partner (or in certain circumstances a family member) under a regime that is quite generous to the succeeding spouse or civil partner.
Whenever we advise on these issues, the advice given is very fact specific but this article hopefully outlines in broad terms some of the issues relating to AAOs. For further information on this area of law please contact Bryony Darnell.