Rural residential tenancies in England

Residential lettings are a common feature on rural estates and farms. Twenty years on from the change in emphasis from assured tenancies to assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs), the number of non-shorthold arrangements is decreasing.

However, significant statutory protection continues to be conferred on agricultural workers. When dealing with an occupier who is or was employed in agriculture or with a proposed new letting to an agricultural employee, it is important to consider this statutory overlay.

The protection of agricultural occupiers originates from the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 and that Act continues to govern arrangements granted to qualifying agricultural workers which pre-date 15 January 1989. Since 15 January 1989, agricultural workers have been protected by the Housing Act 1988 in the form of assured agricultural occupancies (AAOs).

Although the parties can choose to contract out of the AAO regime and instead opt for an AST, this requires formal action to be taken before the worker goes into occupation. This process is often overlooked, leading to the inadvertent creation of AAOs, the undesirable outcome of which is the creation of a secure occupancy – an increasingly novel concept in an era when short term ASTs are now the norm.

This section is maintained by Josie Edwards and Vivienne Williams of Michelmores LLP.

This section is maintained in relation to residential tenancies of property in England only.


From 15 July 2022, a new regime applies in Wales, when the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (RHWA) comes into effect. The RHWA will apply retrospectively to any arrangements previously protected by the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1988 (i.e. to secure, assured and assured shorthold tenancies, and assured agricultural occupancies). It will not however, affect tenancies under the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 or the Rent Act 1977.


Under the RHWA, 'occupation contracts' will govern all new arrangements entered into with an individual that confer on them the right to occupy a dwelling as a home. All existing tenancies and licences previously governed by the Housing Act 1985 and Housing Act 1988 convert to occupation contracts automatically on 15 July 2022. There will be two different types of occupation contracts, secure and standard. Standard contracts are the default contract for the private rented sector.