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Buying a property with an agricultural tie

An attractive rural property for sale at less than the usual market price can seem like an unexpected bargain – until you find out it comes with an agricultural occupancy condition, more commonly known as an ‘agricultural tie’.

Agricultural Occupancy Conditions (AOCs) were brought in after World War II to keep rural housing affordable for agricultural workers. They are still being imposed today to allow the building of houses in the open countryside where development would not normally be permitted.

In general terms, an AOC is a planning condition which states that a property can only be occupied by someone who is ‘wholly or mainly occupied in agriculture or forestry’.  A widower or dependent of someone falling within the definition would also be covered

Potential problem for both buyer and seller

The change in modern farming practices, and the need for less live-in labour, means there are now far fewer prospective buyers who can fulfil the AOC criteria.

Meanwhile, alongside the issue of a shrinking pool of potential purchasers, the seller has another problem – the value of a home with an agricultural tie is generally about 25-30 per cent lower than a property without one.

Can you get an agricultural tie lifted?

The answer is yes, sometimes. It is possible to alter, suspend or discharge an AOC but it’s not a straightforward or simple process and specialist legal advice is highly advisable.

Getting it lifted entirely usually involves proving beyond any doubt that the property concerned is no longer needed as accommodation for agricultural workers.

This generally involves marketing the property for between six and 12 months, although the exact timescale would need to be agreed with the local council, at a price which reflects the AOC to see if any qualifying buyers come forward.

If they don’t, and it can be seen that there has been no demand for the property over that time, the local council may agree to remove the AOC.  You would, of course, need to discuss this with the council in question as it might have specific requirements that must be met first.

Altering and suspending an AOC

Sometimes it’s possible to change the conditions of an AOC – and this is being seen increasingly when it comes to equestrian use.

Another way forward is to apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness of Existing Use or Development (CLEUD) to prove there has been a consistent, uninterrupted and ongoing breach of the AOC for 10 years.

In short, the CLEUD does not remove the agricultural tie but merely certifies that the current use is lawful.  If anyone falls within the definition required by the AOC then the tie would effectively be re-instated and the 10 year period would start from scratch the next time the AOC was breached. However, it’s not uncommon for a council to remove an AOC completely once a CLEUD has been granted.

For more information about this complicated area of the law, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Conveyancing Team.

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UPDATE August 2020

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Wards Solicitors LLP