Farmhouse Repairs

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    1. I was instructed in relation to a dispute between a landlord and a tenant concerning alleged breaches of the landlord’s repairing obligation in respect of the farmhouse. The letting was one which was protected under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. Subject to contractual modification, the Model Clauses (by contract, the 1973 Regulations version) applied to the letting.
    1. Rather than pursue his remedies under the AHA 1986, the tenant involved the Local Authority. As was common ground between the parties, the Local Authority decided that there were works that needed to be undertaken in relation to the farmhouse and, as a consequence, issued an Improvement Notice under the Housing Act 2004.
    1. The HA 2004 applies to residential lettings and contains provisions whereby the Local Authority can intervene to require repairs to be carried out. Where the Local Authority does so, then it serves the Improvement Notice in respect of the required works on the landlord. The Local Authority does that regardless of whether the matters contained in the Improvement Notice fall within the repairing obligation of the landlord.
    1. In this case, the landlord’s position was that the vast majority of the repairs were liabilities of the tenant, but as that matter had not been determined between the landlord and the tenant, the Local Authority decided simply to proceed with the enforcement of the Improvement Notice by commencing proceedings in the local Magistrates Court.
    1. Notwithstanding the fact that the landlord considered that the majority (if not all) of the matters of disrepair referred to in the Improvement Notice fell within the tenant’s repairing obligation under the letting governed by the AHA 1986, the Magistrates were not interested in that. Under the HA 2004 the statutorily identified party on whom an Improvement Notice is served is the landlord and it is for the landlord to act in response to the Improvement Notice.
    1. Notwithstanding the decision of the High Court in Shropshire Council v RMC Farming Limited: (see separate article), this article will not refer to the outcome of the statutory arbitration which subsequently ensued. The key point is that if a farmhouse is let under the AHA 1986 (or indeed under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995), and it is disrepair, if the tenant can persuade the Local Authority that the work should be the subject of an Improvement Notice, then it is for the landlord to carry out the repairs regardless of whether those repairs fall within the landlord’s repairing obligation under the AHA/ATA tenancy.

© P R Williams

3 July 2024

P R Williams, Ebery Williams – Author of Scammell, Densham & Williams Law of Agricultural Holdings

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