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Unwanted "Neigh"-bours New Law for Owners and Occupiers

View profile for Ian Riley
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Landowners and occupiers have been given power to deal with fly-grazing horses more efficiently by virtue of the Control of Horses Act 2015. This is not just of benefit to agricultural clients, because fly-grazing does not only occur in the countryside. I have acted for developers on development land purchases which have been delayed whilst the seller deals with this problem (as explained in more detail below).

The new legislation gives freeholders and occupiers (e.g. tenants under a lease) power to detain horses which are on their land without lawful authority. It also provides a modified procedure for disposing of such horses after detention.

Control of Horses Act 2015

Previous legislation required horses to be detained for 14 days before disposal, whereas the new legislation reduces this to 96 hours. In addition, the previous legislation restricted “disposal” to sale only, whereas now “disposal” includes humane destruction, sale or disposal in any other way (e.g. giving the horse to charity).

In my development land purchase example, horses were placed on the land after exchange of contracts. The seller was unable to remove the horses quickly enough to provide “vacant possession” on the contractual completion date and was therefore in breach of contract. This resulted in delays and additional legal costs for both parties. The actions of the horse owner were in fact malicious, as he was aware of the transaction and sought payment for the speedy removal of the horses.

This new legislation is welcome news for landowners and occupiers in England, as it provides a quicker and more flexible solution to this problem. It will also reduce the impact on land transactions, which can be delayed by fly-grazing horses.

As a cautionary note, I would recommend that any purchaser should not rely solely on this new law. A purchaser may not have knowledge of the land or any previous/continuing arrangements for grazing and/or occupation by third parties. It would be inadvisable to proceed with a purchase of land which is thought to be fly-grazed (thinking that the Control of Horses Act 2015 provides a simple solution), because it may transpire that there is in fact a tenancy in place, preventing or significantly delaying vacant possession. This is also a reminder of the importance of conducting a site visit on the morning of the agreed completion date.