Alternatives can be less daunting than land court when rents come up for review

FARM tenants who face a review of their rent should not be put off by the recent high profile case in the land court.

For those who fear their rent review might be a time-consuming, costly and formal process, the Scottish Agricultural Arbiters and Valuers Association (SAAVA), has this week pointed out there are, apart from the Land Court route, a number of other dispute resolution options in the Agricultural Holdings Acts that parties may agree to adopt.

The advice comes just ahead of the May term, which along with its November counterpart form the two main times of the year for rental agreements. It is also timely in that many tenants have not had a rental review for the past decade, which makes the review process unfamiliar.

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SAAVA points out that among the rental review options, it is possible to use a trained mediator to facilitate the negotiations between landlord and tenant.

Another possibility would be to refer any dispute to an independent expert. He may hear submissions from the parties but then he will deliver a decision in the dispute based on his own experience or investigations. SAAVA points out that this process is favoured in the commercial property sector.

The traditional method of resolving rental disputes was arbitration, but this fell out of favour. However, with the introduction of the Arbitration Act, coming into force later this year, there are hopes that the process will be reinvigorated.

The act states a founding principle of arbitration is to resolve disputes fairly, impartially and without unnecessary delay or expense.

Other aspects of the arbitration process which landlords and tenants may view as beneficial include confidentiality and an ability to agree the procedure to be followed.

John Mitchell, an accredited specialist in agricultural law, partner at Anderson Strathern and the secretary of SAAVA, described the arbitration process as potentially less formal than a court application. "Most importantly, if parties co-operate it should be possible to agree a process which reduces delay or expense."

He advised any tenants facing a rent review who are concerned about how best to go about it to contact SAAVA who have been doing this type of work for 80 years and whose 150-plus members have a vast pool of knowledge on the settlement of tenancy disputes and rent reviews.

The land court case involved the rent on the 500-acre Moonzie Farm near Cupar, farmed by Ian Paterson and his son Scott, whose landlord is the Morrison Low family.

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It was the first to go through the court under the Agricultural Holdings Act 2003.