In rural communities it is not uncommon to find dwellings that are restricted by Agricultural Occupancy Conditions (‘AOC’). The wording of such conditions can vary, but follow a common theme and the purpose is to restrict the occupation of the properties to those who are employed or last employed in agriculture (or forestry) together with their dependents.
Certificate of lawfulness – without restriction of occupation
Nadhim Zahawi’s family have been successful in obtaining a certificate of lawfulness to reside in their AOC property without restriction of occupation. Previous applications to lift the AOC were refused but no enforcement action for breach of the AOC was taken. This enabled the time in which enforcement action could be taken to run out.
Agricultural Occupancy Conditions – when a breach occurs
Where an AOC property is resided in by people who do not meet the condition such breach can be deemed lawful where that breach has occurred for a continuous period of ten years or more.
Where an applicant making an application for a certificate of lawfulness demonstrates the continuous breach (on the balance of probabilities), a certificate of lawfulness should be issued by Local Authorities. The date of the certificate certifies that at that time the use of the property by persons not meeting the terms of the AOC was lawful. But be warned, should the property ever be resided in by someone who meets the AOC, because the condition has not been removed, the AOC would bite again and the lawfulness of the unrestricted occupation would be lost, unless ten years is built up again by another continuous 10 year breach (and perhaps another successful certificate application).
Whether an AOC has been breached can be complex
For example, the definition of ‘dependents’ within an AOC has been considered by the courts. In one case the agricultural operations were operating at a substantial loss and therefore not contributing to the household in terms of financial support. It was claimed that this signified a breach of the condition as an occupier of the dwelling was not dependent upon income generated by agricultural work and thus they were entitled to a certificate. However, it was held that ‘dependents’ as a matter of ordinary language are capable of being dependent in a non-financial manner, with key factors such as emotional support and care considered just as important as finances and hence there was no breach of the AOC and no certificate would be issued.
Of course the result in that judgment meant that the occupants could continue to occupy the property as they met the terms of the AOC. As such, it is possible to occupy an AOC dwelling, where the land is being worked for agriculture in some form. It does not necessarily have to be done in a way which makes it the main source of financial support, or even a profit. The key is dependency, which is capable of manifesting itself in a non-financial capacity.
Demonstrating a continuous breach can sometimes prove difficult with each case turning on their own individual facts, with temporary breaks in occupation proving to be especially tricky.
AOC conditions can also be lifted in other ways as another of our articles sets out.
The Planning team at Stephens Scown regularly deal with AOC conditions and can be contacted should you need advice on either lifting an AOC or applying for a certificate of lawfulness for unrestricted occupation following a ten year breach.