Many farming businesses and landed estates provide accommodation to employees as part of their employment, even though they may not actually need to live on the property for the performance of their duties.
This arrangement is often informal, with the assumption being made that upon the employee leaving the job, either through retirement or otherwise, the employee must give up the property to make way for any replacement. This is however often not the case and the consequences of not handling the situation correctly at the outset (before the employee takes up residence) can be costly for the employer.
The housing of agricultural workers must be handled with care in order to make sure much greater security of tenure is not being given to the employee than is necessary.
The Housing Act 1988 provides that an assured tenancy will no longer be an assured tenancy if the tenant fulfils the agricultural worker condition. To fall into this category an employee must have worked 91 weeks in agriculture out of the previous 104 weeks. The dwelling house must also have been in ‘qualifying ownership’ during the subsistence of the tenancy. This means that the employer must be either the owner of the dwelling house or someone who has made arrangements with the owner for it to be used for the housing of agricultural workers.
If an employee meets these conditions, or goes on to meet them in the future, the employee could well have inadvertently been granted an ‘assured agricultural occupancy’. This gives considerable security of tenure to the employee and seriously restricts the landlord’s ability to obtain vacant possession from the employee or ex-employee.
When such security of tenure has been granted landlords often need to come to the terms with the fact that the property is not going to be available for other employees, at least in the immediate future or that he or she may have to financially incentivise the tenant to give up their secure lease.
Agricultural workers can however be easily prevented from obtaining such security by the correct procedure being followed prior to the tenancy being granted. A prescribed notice being served on the tenant to state that the tenancy will be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) is generally sufficient to ensure that the tenancy does not become a protected agricultural tenancy. This then allows the landlord to deal with the employee’s housing as he or she would with any standard (AST) tenant.