AGRICULTURAL landlords have pledged to 'work constructively' with Scottish Government and others to improve the housing stock on tenanted farms.

That was the message from landowners, as rural economy cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing and housing minister Kevin Stewart, along with industry stakeholder bodies, launched the Agricultural Tenancy House Condition Survey 2017, at the recent Rural Housing summit in Perth.

Executive director of Scottish Land and Estates, Sarah Jane Laing, said: "The majority of tenants and landlords stated in the survey that the condition of housing was either excellent, very good or acceptable. However, the fact that 14% of tenants described their houses as being in poor or very poor condition shows there is an issue that has to be addressed.

"What was clear at the summit was that there is agreement that we need to work together to find a way to improve some of the housing on tenanted farms."

As things stand, farmhouses are not covered by housing legislation but the Scottish Government plans to take steps to ensure they meet the basic standard for living accommodation by 2022, and then the higher standard demanded in the private rented sector five years later.

"Everyone should have a safe, good quality home and that is a shared objective that needs to be achieved without damage to farm businesses," said Ms Laing. "Given the complexity of agricultural tenancy law surrounding farmhouses and repairing obligations, dealing with the issue may not be straightforward but hopefully we can agree a way forward.”

Speaking from the summit, NFUS policy manager Gemma Cooper added: “The new report indicates a general need to improve the condition of tenanted housing on farms but recognises that, given the size and age of many farmhouses, the cost of undertaking such work could be substantial. Work needs to be undertaken to highlight the level of funding that may be available at a local authority level for improving tenanted housing. Given the cost involved, investigating a low interest loan scheme also merits examination.

“What is also clear is the low level of understanding as to where responsibility for repairs and replacement lies, with the tenant responsible for repairing fixed equipment and the landlord responsible for replacing fixed equipment," she noted. "Where this can become difficult in the current context, is where a lack of repair results in the need for a replacement. We need a system which is fair to both landlords and tenants, and this is not going to be an easy thing to achieve.

“Industry is going to have to go back to the drawing board to better understand the nuances of this issue. NFUS will be taking the issue up with the Tenant Farming Commissioner as a first step to trying to get parties to sit down and discuss their options.”