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TENANT RIGHT., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 151, 11 September 1880
(by a plains farmer.)
For many years the question of tenant right was agitated in England, until farmers succeeded in getting some protection for the capital and skill which they applied for the improvement of the land they occupied. The importance of tenant right is great for two reasons (i) It prevents personal loss; and (2) it prevents national loss. It was a very common thing for farms to be let for fourteen years, but with the option left to either landlord or tenant to cancel the lease at the end of the first seven years. Thus it often occurred that when a farmer has taken land that has been badly farmed, and perhaps at a reduced rent from what it had been leased at before, acting under the impression that he had fourteen years to work out a better system of farming, he applied his utmost skill and capital to the improvement of that land, and at the end of seven years the farm had a very different appearance. The farmer was just beginning to reap the benefit of his labor, and outlay; but the landlord had had his eye on the farm. Seeing how much better it looked, he fanced it would now make more rent. Hence it often occurred that landlords had been mean enough to take advantage of the optional clause of the lease, and give farmer the alternative of quitting the farm or paying more rent. The farmer was thus robbed of the money he had expended on the land. To prevent this again, on the other hand, some farmers would not have the optional clause in the lease, but secured the farm for four teen years. With a fair share of brains and capital this sort of farmer laid out these in the improvement of the farm during the first seven years; but the same caution that taught him to resist the optional clause also taught him to take out of the land during the last seven years all he had put into it during the first. This reduced the land, and here came in the national loss. Tenant right prevents both these losses. When the lease expired under which the farmer held his farm, and he was unable to come to terms for another, the Tenant Right Act would give him power to claim compensation for all permanent improvements he may have made, and unexhausted manures he can prove to have put in the soil; and this claim would be decided by arbitration. Now, this is just what is wanted in New Zealand to prevent both personal and national losses that are constantly taking place—sometimes for want of caution in signing documents with which the farmers have not made themselves acquainted, but more frequently through the greed and over-reaching of unprincipled, dishonest men, who having got hold of large blocks of land, are anxious to get men to settle on them —(although not always farmers) —to cultivate the soil, put up buildings and other permanent improvements, and if the settler can do it, pay a portion of the purchase money at the commencement. _ A clause is inserted in the deed binding the tenant to pay 20s. per acre at the end of three years, which, together with the deposit and purchase money is about per acre, for which sum he pays 9 per cent., interest, or about ss. per acre as rent. Then comes the crisis. If at the end of the third year the farmer finds his capital all expended in the deposit, and the improvements on the land, such as building, fencing, breaking up, and paying the rent or interest; and having made but a small return out of the land, in many cases not more than would pay harvesting and threshing; he is unable to pay the 20s. per acre, the hawk-eyed landlord, who has been watching all that has been done to improve his property, now rejoices in the fact that the farmer has to quit. The farmer is unable to fulfil the conditions of his lease, and he must leave all the improvements he has made with his money behind, and for all his landlord cares, go out into the world as naked as he came into it. Now,
from such a standpoint it will be seen that the more a man lays out, and the better he farms, the worse for himself. This accounts for so many miserable looking homesteads about the country and so many bad fences. There is no protection for the farmer on the one hand, nor inducement on the other; but if we had what is called Tenant Right, every farmer could claim compensation for all permanent improvements he has made on the land. This would encourage good farming and the erection of good buildings, and would prevent such wholesale robbery as has been carried on in this colony—this district not excepted—by hungry land-sharks during the last two years. An instance recently occurred in which a hard-working honest farmer, sold a small farm, which was his own freehold, about three years since, and came into this county and bought some land partly improved. He paid down a considerable portion of the purchase money, put up a nice comfortable house, got the fences in repair, and had the land all in cultivation. He paid the interest up to due date, but he foolishly agreed to pay zos. per acre as an instalment of the purchase money which came due this year. He like many others had had crops that brought a low price, and he was unable to pay the money. Down came the landlord ready to devour his all and he would have lost all, but for the kind help of a friend who took him out of the difficulty. This is only one out of many such cases. How much more creditable would it have been had the landlord kept an honest, industrious man on the land, who would have paid the rent, or interest, and possibly the purchase money after a time ? But instead the land is now unoccupied and looking quite desolate. Let us advise all who think of settling on land, if they cannot buy it out, to lease it for a number of years, and if desirable, to have a clause inserted in the lease to provide for the optional purchase of the land at the expiration of the term at a given price. Then, with a Tenant Right Act passed, an honest industrious farmer would be protected from the designs of land-sharks who would not hesitate to turn a hundred families out of house and home to gratify their covetous designs, and the colony would be saved from such national losses.
TENANT RIGHT., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 151, 11 September 1880
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