A judge has ruled in a case which lawyers suggest has wider implications for interpreting the rights of entry agricultural landlords have to tenanted property.
The case, Rees v Earl of Plymouth, concerned a 97ha farm close to Cardiff. It was farmed under two Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies.
The landlord obtained outline planning permission for housing on the land and, as part of the environmental conditions attached to this, needed to undertake various landscape wildlife and habitats surveys on the farm.
These surveys included digging trial pits and boreholes, placing surveyor’s reference pins on the land and installing remote bat detectors in order to study the bat population.
The landlord, with the agreement of the tenant, did dig some trials pits, for which the tenant was compensated.
But the tenant initially refused access for the ecological surveys, arguing that the clause in the lease allowing the landlord the right to entry “for all reasonable purposes” had to relate to the parties’ landlord and tenant relationship.
Court of Appeal
This case came to the Court of Appeal following a High Court case in 2019, where the judge had ruled that a restrictive approach to reserved rights of entry in a tenancy should be taken.
But the Court of Appeal’s judgment, handed down on 1 July, did not support an overly restrictive interpretation of reservations.
Its conclusion was that if rights of entry are reserved for “reasonable purposes”, those reasonable purposes had to be understood in the context of the land and all relevant circumstances.
‘Positive for landowners’
Law firm Burges Salmon, which acted on behalf of the landowners, said the case was an important and “very positive decision” for landowners and developers.
“The broad thrust coming from this case is that rights of entry should be interpreted sensibly, not unduly legalistically, and in the context of the land to which they apply.
“This case is likely to be seen as a significant decision supporting landlords’ rights of access and their freedom of action on tenanted land.”
George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said it was “very sad” to see how a relatively straightforward dispute can get quickly out of hand so that the only winners are the lawyers.
The Court of Appeal’s decision effectively requires the parties to a lease to consider its terms in the round and from a common-sense perspective, he said.
“I would be very disappointed if landlords took this decision to give them licence to take a carte blanche approach to imposing rights of entry on tenants.
“Coming onto the holding to carry out a bat survey is very different to requiring access to dig up land for archaeological purposes.
“A lease which provides reasonable rights of entry to the landlord would cover the former, but not the latter.
“However, in every case, we would encourage landlords and tenants to come to sensible agreements, with tenants being compensated for any losses they incur as a result of the use by a landlord of reserved rights.”
The case also underlined the importance of ensuring that tenants take good advice when entering into new arrangements to ensure they understand what reserved rights the landlord might have included within the terms of the lease, Mr Dunn added.