Cultivation letter or eviction notice at your Allotment? Where to go from here?

This is a regular post on social media. Here is a discussion of your rights and responsibilities. I am not writing this from a point of legal expertise, but hope to give an overview of common processes and procedures, your options and how to manage this situation.

In most circumstances this relates to lack of cultivation so I will focus on this. If you have received an eviction notice for any other reason the National Allotment Society (if you are a member) will advise on your best actions. If you are not a member (join!) otherwise consider the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or private legal advice to guide you on the next steps.

1. Legal stuff from a non-legal perspective.

The power to adopt processes to manage non-cultivation is set by law in the Allotment Act. As this is covered by law all tenants must be treated with an absence of bias and with full compliance to the Human rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. Essentially this means you must me treated fairly, expectations/timeframes must be reasonable and any adjustments for protected characteristics must be considered.

1. Communication.

If you have received a warning letter and you are truly shocked then firstly ensure this letter was not sent in error. This might sound a little crazy, but if your ground is very large or is managed by an organisation who is not regularly present the letter could have been sent to the wrong plot number. Unfortunately mistakes do happen! Try to be polite. Remember whoever manages the plot is just trying to do their job and it isn’t easy ensuring fair management – you can be juggling many balls at the same time to maintain consistency, fairness and provide support when required.

2. Check your tenancy!

Your tenancy agreement should clearly outline the processes that are involved. In most cases, as advised by the National Allotment Society, at least one (often more) period(s) of clear notice should be given to allow the tenant opportunity to meet the standards required. For example, a 28 day notice, followed by a 21 day notice before an eviction notice is issued.

3. What does ‘cultivated’ mean? What ‘standard’ do I need to meet?

Now this is a real ‘grey’ area. Most tenancy agreements state either ‘fully cultivated’, ‘cultivated to the level agreed by the committee/management’ or ‘partially cultivated’ with a specific fraction e.g. 3/4 of the full area. As the term ‘cultivated’ is very difficult to define most definitions centre around a plot being used in a way that doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of neighbouring tenants. Therefore it would be reasonable for an allotment to be kept:

i) Free from weeds – at a minimum -removal of weed seed heads before the seed has set and control of pernicious (spreading) weeds.
ii) In a good state of fertility.
iii) Accessible with paths free of hazards.
iv) Used (predominantly) for the production of edible crops (n.b. some tenancy agreements may allow for the production of flowers/wildlife areas).

In real terms this doesn’t mean your plot should be keep pristine with zero weeds! Just that your level of cultivation isn’t so limited that it interferes with other plots and that you are clearly using the plot productively.

If you have been given a notice around cultivation and have a ‘generic’ target of improving ‘cultivation (to the required standard)’ then ensure you clearly negotiate what this means. Obtain a specific list of the actions you are required to do with timeframes. Take photos and allow the (management) committee to do this as well. This is your opportunity to be involved in the process and ensure it is fair and without bias. If you do not agree with the actions or feel they are unrealistic then obtain some support with negotiations from the National Allotment Society. Remember it isn’t easy managing non-cultivation for either party. It is most likely that the committee (or whoever manages the ground) would like to support you to manage your plot to the minimum level to allow you to continue with your hobby. Be polite, but also firm to negotiate actions.

4. Extenuating circumstances

Not unlike many challenging situations in life, communication is key to resolving issues. You may have been unwell or have had a serious family or work emergency. Your tenancy may cover these circumstances. If you feel this is the case the first point of action should be to discuss this with the committee (or whoever is in charge of managing the tenancy). If this is a short term problem you may find that it could be agreed to temporarily strim/cover your plot to give you time to consider your options and return at a later date. In this case ensure you get any agreements in writing so it is clear to all parties involved what considerations have been put in place and the timescales for review. I would be hopeful that no management committee would want to put an unsupportive front up for tenants in difficult situations, but also remember long term non-cultivation is a problem that does have an impact on others, particularly your surrounding plot neighbours. The management committee have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments (see point 1), but they also have a responsibility to ensure that long-term non cultivation doesn’t interfere with other plots. Accept help/nominate a family member/friend to step in during your absence to ensure the plot is covered. You could also consider paying a professional to do this as a one off.

5. Try to be objective.

Try to be objective; this isn’t always easy! Many of us have a good deal of emotion tied to our plots and, even if we haven’t managed to keep on top of things, that doesn’t always diminish. In addition, it is human nature to feel a little ‘taken back’ and even offended when it is suggested that you haven’t kept to your side of the bargain in managing your plot. Consider the following:

i) Is continuing with the plot something you want to do? Do you enjoy spending time there? Do you utilise the produce? Does the plot have a positive impact on your well-being?
ii) Do you have time/physical ability to manage the plot? This commitment is likely to be an increase on your recent effort to help you get on top of things and to further maintain the area to a higher standard of cultivation. If your circumstances have changed what are you able to modify? Could you realistically come more often? Could you reduce the size of the plot, obtain some short term help or consider a change in approach?

6. Considering a reduction in size of plot.

This is an option that is often discussed in these circumstances. In this case, you still need to be attending your plot regularly. If you haven’t been able to attend (hardly) at all or your physical condition means you can’t manage the labour then reducing the size of your plot isn’t a workable solution.

7. Considering a change in approach.

Sometimes a change on approach can make the area more manageable. Like option 6, this may be suitable if you are able to attend, but just haven’t managed to thoroughly keep on top of it all. Perhaps consider ‘no dig approaches’ or putting in raised beds if bending is difficult. A friend/family or other could come along to help to put in an initial drive to get things into a more manageable condition. You may be able to invest a blast of time initially yourself to get things under control. Could you use some annual leave or change your general plans to give you that boost at the plot?

8. Sharing of plots.

Unofficial sharing of plots (often called subletting) is not allowed in most tenancy agreements. This is because if the flow of allotments is not managed through the waiting list this can put a disadvantage to those officially waiting who may have been waiting some time for a plot. However, check the rules at your ground as this may be allowed. You may be able to register a ‘co-tenant’ to help at your plot to also protect their rights. Remember bringing in a friend or family member to help on the plot (when you are still actively involved) or to help in the very short term isn’t subletting.

9. Consider community based options.

If considering points 4-8 it doesn’t seem realistic to continue with your plot you may find that your allotment ground offers community based options to allow you to stay involved. Have you had your plot a long time, but can’t manage the physical work? Are you time poor, but still want access socially or to have opportunities for access to an outdoor space to help your mental health or help educate your family where food comes from? This can be a great option. There may be a communal plot where you could continue involvement or if you ground doesn’t offer this option there may be other organisations locally that do so.

10. I think I have been treated unfairly.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly you have the right to appeal any decision. This process should be detailed in the tenancy agreement. The National Allotment Society can support you with this process. If your allotment is on council ground (but managed by a committee or other organisation) then you may also appeal through the council. You could also consider discussing the situation with your local authoriy counsellor if you do not feel this has been adequately managed.

In summary:

a) Ensure you have official documentation of any warnings/letters and that due process (according to your tenancy) has been followed.
b) Be objective and try to take the emotion out of the situation to enable a workable plan. Be honest with yourself about your physical ability, time management and motivation.
c) Obtain very clear expectations of the minimum work you are required to do with any warnings – in writing; negotiate this so it is workable from your side and take photos of your progress.
d) Consider your right to appeal against any decision you feel is unjust.
e) If the decision is to give up the plot do this as quickly as possible to be as fair as you can to other plotholders and those on the waiting list.
f) If you need further advice use the National Allotment Society