Land agents and tenant farmers' group renew spat over rents

THE on-going spat between land agents, CKD Galbraith, and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association stepped up a gear yesterday as association chairman, Angus McCall, disputed claims from Galbraith's Chris Addison Scott that farm rent reviews were generally being settled amicably and fairly.

The spat, which started a year ago, has been given added spice following the decision of the Scottish Land Court in June to fix the rent of Moonzie Farm in Fife at 20,800 compared with the 32,000 sought by Addison Scott on behalf of the landowner, Richard Morrison-Low, and the 21,266.74 offered by the tenant, the executors of the late Thomas Paterson.

The land court took the view that single farm payment should not be treated as part of the farm income and only a small percentage should be taken into account in calculating farm rents.

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A decision has been appealed by the landowner and the decision of the Inner House of the Court of Session is awaited.

A year ago, Addison Scott's claim that the vast majority of the 60 rent reviews carried out in 2009 by Galbraith's had been agreed to the satisfaction of both parties brought an outcry from McCall who accused land agents of adopting "bullyboy tactics to beat tenants into submission" with the threat of a costly referral to the land court if they did not agree increased rents.

The association is calling for changes to the 2003 Agricultural Holdings Act to have disputes settled by arbitration rather than an immediate referral to the court.

Addison Scott said yesterday that all 15 reviews carried out by Galbraith's this year had again been agreed between the parties at varying levels of increase.

He said: "The striking feature of this year's reviews is that there has been no appetite for landlords or tenants to agree reviews on the basis of the Moonzie decision. The well established and traditional method of working out the rent based on comparable evidence, whether or not SFP is taken into account, was preferred by all and ultimately resulted in a much fairer agreed rental than the land court's formulaic approach."

He claimed that using the land court formula based on net farm profit would have hiked rents to an unrealistic level - possibly doubling rents agreed using comparables - because of increased grain, beef and lamb prices this year.

But McCall has hit back with the claim that a "rash of notices" is being served by land agents in a desperate attempt to push up rents before the outcome of the Moonzie appeal is known.

"The final outcome of this appeal will be a watershed," said McCall. "Tenants are standing up to these cowboy agents and reporting widespread success in keeping rents down.The bullyboy tactics have now come back to haunt agents unable to fulfil hollow promises of high rents made to their clients."

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Responding last night to McCall's claims, Addison Scott said the association had produced no evidence to back up their claims of bullying by land agents.

"I am not a bully and have never been accused of bullying," he said. "All the reviews we have carried out have been settled amicably without rancour."