New landlord/tenant code of practice “a major step forward”

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) is delighted that there has been cross sectoral support for the publication of a new Code of Practice to regulate the conduct of landlord tenant relationships within the agricultural sector in England.

The Code of Practice is another output from the Farm Tenancy Forum (FTF), established in the wake of the Rock Review Report from the Tenancy Working Group and a huge success for ongoing lobbying by the TFA.

Both the report of the Rock Review and a more recent survey conducted by the TFA highlighted widespread evidence of poor conduct, particularly by landlords’ agents. The TFA found that 30% of respondents to its survey felt bullied or harassed by their landlords and 37% felt bullied or harassed by their landlords’ agents. 70% of respondents reported that they did not even have regular meetings with their landlords. However, 91% of respondents to the TFA survey said that the sector would benefit from a Code of Practice.

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn, said, “Whilst it is a shame in this day and age that we need a Code of Practice which tells people how to behave, it is clear that we need clarity around the rules of conduct. For too long tenants have felt marginalised and mistreated and this Code of Practice is a major step forward for the sector. Whilst I am not naïve enough to think that, in itself, the Code of Practice will resolve all the current problems within the sector, it will provide an important touch point for people to call out and deal with poor practice.”

The central theme of the new Code of Practice is about encouraging collaboration. This was the buzzword used throughout the report of the Rock Review. Recognising that there are various industry codes of practice, guidance and standards already in existence, the new code does not seek to duplicate what is already available. It is a document that can sit on farmers’ kitchen tables and can be referred to during discussions between landlords and tenants including rent reviews.

The Country Land and Business Association also welcomed the new code of practice.

CLA Acting Director North, Henk Geertsema said, “The CLA welcomes the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Code of Practice as it is a useful tool to foster good relationships in the tenanted sector, so that it can thrive and work for all parties involved. We were pleased to contribute to its development, which was based on many constructive conversations.

“Landlords and tenants need to have confidence in a balanced system to take up the opportunities offered by ELM and private schemes, where the needs of the tenant must be balanced with the property interests of the landowner. We encourage all landlords, professional advisers and tenants to familiarise themselves with the code and use it to guide discussions.”

Dunn continued, “I would like to see the professional bodies which regulate land agents and other advisers in the let sector making the Code of Practice part of their regulatory functions so that professionals can be truly held to account for their actions. In addition, we would like to see the code referred to in tenancy agreements, letters of instruction and in other important agreements. We need to change the culture within the landlord tenant sector and, at last, we have a Code of Practice which should help us to do so.

“I am particularly concerned to ensure that landlords’ agents are respectful of place and people particularly when they are holding meetings within the farm kitchens of tenant farmers where the words that they use will reverberate around that special place for weeks, months and years after any engagement takes place.

“The Code of Practice emphasises the need for matters to be discussed in good time, so that people are not rushed into making decisions. Equally, in holding sensitive discussions, it will be necessary to choose the time to have those conversations, carefully avoiding busy times of the year or periods of particular emotional stress for farmers and their families. There needs to be a recognition of the shared rights and responsibilities of all parties. These must be respected by all those who are taking part in negotiations and discussions in respect of tenanted agricultural holdings.”

Now that the Code of Practice has been published, the TFA will be pushing for the appointment of a Tenant Farming Commissioner who can oversee and develop the code as needed. An announcement about the appointment of a commissioner is due to be made by DEFRA in May following its recent call for evidence.

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