No simple fix to issue of tenanted farmhouses

Forcing the regulation of houses let as part of an agricultural holding into private rented sector legislation could lead to problems for landowners and farming businesses, a conference heard yesterday.

Sarah-Jane Laing CEO
Sarah-Jane Laing CEO

Speaking at Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) annual conference in Edinburgh, the organisation’s chief executive Sarah-Jane Laing called instead for a bespoke solution.

On rural Scotland’s housing stock, she said that the Scottish Government had signalled its intention to bring homes within agricultural tenancies into greater line with the regulation and operation of the social and private rented housing sectors.

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At the moment the majority of houses on tenanted farms are treated as part of the farm fixtures, governed by regulations with different standards and obligations to those enacted under wider housing legislation.

The sometimes poor quality of housing provided on tenanted units was picked up during the review of the agricultural holdings legislation prior to the 2016 Land Reform Act, and MSPs subsequently pressed the Scottish Parliament to amend the existing rules.

But Laing said that while SLE fully supported the need for the quality of homes to be improved, the vehicle for doing this shouldn’t be ill-fitting urban-centric legislation.

Arguing that appropriate regulation should be incorporated into an Agricultural Holdings Bill rather than a future Housing Bill, she said: “We support the broad effort to improve the standard of housing stock on tenanted farms where required, ensuring homes are safe and warm for all.

"One of the current considerations by government is to look at housing let through agricultural holdings and how that could be brought closer into line with private rented sector legislation.”

She stressed that account had to be taken of the complexities of agricultural holdings legislation rather than trying to retrospectively apply housing legislation.

“That could be done through an agricultural holdings bill, but taking cognisance of wider housing policy.”

Laing said that this would lead to the same outcome but deliver it through a route that was better suited to tenant farming.

“Issues such as repairing obligations, rent, tenants’ improvements and farmhouses forming part of the fixed equipment must all be considered.”

And she said that to override the current arrangements without careful consideration was likely to lead to real difficulties for all parties - and would be more likely to exacerbate underlying problems than cure them.

On the wider issue of rural housing Laing also called for immediate action to address the underlying problems which she claimed saw attempt to provide more housing in the private sector thwarted by delays in planning processes, lack of funding for private affordable homes, prohibitive infrastructure and utility costs and an ever-growing burden of private rented sector legislation.

“The time for action is now and we need to see the Scottish Government deliver on its commitment to provide rural solutions to rural housing need.”

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