The outcome of the rental dispute between Roxburghe Estates and their tenant John Elliot is deeply disappointing for farm tenants in Scotland and the implications for agriculture and the tenanted sector are serious.  This latest decision from the Scottish Land Court demonstrates beyond all doubt what STFA have been saying for many years now that the system of setting farm rents is truly in tatters and a complete overhaul can no longer be avoided and must be tackled in the current review of tenancy legislation.

The move in 2003 from statutory arbitration to the Land Court was expected to produce a quicker, cheaper and fairer means of resolving disputes.  Patently this has not happened and the situation has become worse.  The obvious conclusion must be that the fault lies with the rent test which has made rent reviews overly complex and inherently confrontational.  Creating a simpler way of reviewing rent continues to be a priority of STFA and we will be submitting fresh ideas to the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Group.

This latest decision from the Scottish land Court underlines the unsuitability of using a court of law to resolve what is essentially a valuation issue and this result will do little to improve relationships between landlords and tenants.

In the press release from Roxburghe Estates the factor, Roddy Jackson, has tried to apportion blame to the tenant for the length of time taken to bring the matter to court.  However, it must be noted that delays were inevitable due to the pending ruling on the Moonzie rent case.  Mr Jackson continues by castigating the tenant for not agreeing settle out of court and insinuating that the decision not to settle may have been influenced by an STFA insurance scheme for legal costs.

Mr Jackson’s allegation is totally erroneous as Mr Elliot carries no such cover and insurance considerations have played no part in decision making.  It is extremely misleading of Mr Jackson to make such public claims against Mr Elliot and STFA and it is now incumbent upon him to offer a retraction of his statements.

This unfounded accusation is compounded by notes to editors quoting evidence given by Angus McCall in a previous rent case with the obvious inference that STFA has been directly involved in the conduct of other rent court cases, this is categorically untrue.

Whilst STFA provides comprehensive business and litigation insurance cover, it is precisely that – an optional insurance cover which may assist an individual tenant and is certainly not a war chest. In the first rent case (Moonzie), STFA members voluntarily raised £60,000 to help the tenant contest the landlord’s appeal against the Land court’s decision, in the interest of all because of the precedents which would be set. This sum of money was raised specifically to support the High Court appeal and represented a modest contribution towards the total cost of the case.

STFA is prepared to be open about any involvement in rent cases and it is now time to pose the obvious question as to the extent of SL&E’s involvement in similar cases?

This result will be a devastating blow to the Elliot family who felt they had no choice but to stand their ground against heightened rent demands following Lord Gill’s ruling on the Moonzie rent case which has proved a game changer in raising rent expectations.  Mr Elliot is now faced with a 78% rent rise for the period 1999 to 2009 in stark contrast to Scottish Government’s statistics which indicate an average rise in real terms over the same period of less than 15%.  How can this be considered a fair rent?