Agricultural Tenancies Are Complex - Always Seek Professional Advice

When a farmer dies, close relatives are in certain circumstances entitled to succeed to any agricultural tenancies he or she held. However, strict time limits and other procedural rules apply to the exercise of that right, which is why bereavement should not get in the way of taking prompt professional advice.

A case that underlined that point concerned a farmer who had for many years prior to his death held 50 acres of land under a tenancy that was protected under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. The tenancy was what is often termed a 'three-generation tenancy', meaning in principle that it could be passed on within the farmer's family upon his death, but not more than twice.

His son would be entitled to succeed to the tenancy if he could establish that the land was his sole or principal source of livelihood. However, to ensure his succession, he was required by Section 39(1) of the Act to apply to the First-tier Tribunal for an order to that effect within three months of his father's death. That deadline, which could neither be waived nor extended, came and went but no such application was made.

In those circumstances, the owners of the land issued the deceased farmer's personal representatives with notice to quit. Following a hearing, a judge made a possession order against the farmer's widow as executor of his estate. The judge rejected claims that she and the son had not received the notice.

In dismissing the widow's appeal against that order, the High Court observed that the notice was in proper form and was sent to the correct address. As required by the Act, it was also dispatched within three months of the landlords receiving notice of the farmer's death. The judge had given fair and balanced consideration to the evidence and the widow's criticisms of his factual conclusions had no real substance.