A reminder on the succession of farming tenancies
Farmer’s son loses right to his late father’s farm tenancy in a recent High Court case
A farmer’s son has lost his right to succeed to his late father’s farm tenancy in a recent High Court case. The deceased farmer had farmed the land under an agricultural tenancy until his death in 2013 (Auliffe v Ellis 2019 EWHC 1427 QB).
Section 39 of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 enables an “eligible person” to apply to the First-Tier Tribunal within 3 months of the date of death for a direction entitling him to take over an agricultural tenancy as successor. The Tribunal then determines whether the applicant is a suitable person to become a tenant of the holding.
The farmer’s son claimed that he was an “eligible person” to take over his father’s tenancy within the meaning of Section 39 of the 1986 Act, being a close relative of the deceased whose only or principal source of livelihood derived from his agricultural work on the farm for a specified period before the deceased’s death. However, crucially, the farmer’s son failed to make the application to succeed to the tenancy within 3 months from his father’s date of death.
The judgment reminds us that the 3 month time limit set out in the legislation is strict. There are no exceptions in the 1986 Act and the courts have no power to extend the timescale.
The landlord had sought to end the tenancy after the farmer died and served notice to quit on his widow and son. They claimed that the notice was never received because it was addressed to the wrong house. However, on the facts, the widow and son were unable to rebut the presumption that the notice to quit had been validly served on them. In any event, regardless of whether the landlord’s notice to quit was valid, the son could not succeed to the Tenancy because he failed to make the relevant application under section 39 of the 1968 Act within the 3 month time scale.
Mr Justice Andrew Baker’s judgment alludes to the importance of Solicitors keeping accurate records of documents sent by registered post. Indeed, he comments that if the landlord’s solicitor had obtained definitive proof of delivery of the notice to quit, some or all of the litigation in this case may have been avoided.
This case is an important reminder for anyone seeking to take over an agricultural tenancy following the death of a tenant that they must not delay in taking the appropriate action. The 3 month deadline set out in the 1986 Act cannot be extended at the discretion of the Courts. It is prudent to seek legal advice and take action as soon as possible after a farming tenant’s death to ensure the necessary legal requirements are fulfilled.