Use it or Lose it - The Land Development and Utilization Act
The Land Development and Utilization Act (the “Act”) is one which many persons, attorneys, realtors and lay-persons alike, often forget, or do not know about. The Act creates the Land Development and Utilization Commission (the “Commission”), a body corporate with the responsibility of ensuring that agricultural land is, as far as possible, properly developed and utilized. Currently the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is responsible for the operation and management of the Commission.
Under the Act, agriculture includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, forestry, dairy farming and live-stock breeding and keeping, the use of land as grazing land, pasture land, market gardens and nursery grounds. Land may be designated for agricultural use by virtue of a Development Order under the Town and Country Planning Act or by an order of the Commission.
You cannot sell 50 acres or more of agricultural land! Unless…
The owner or occupier of an agricultural unit of land, measuring fifty acres or more cannot sell, lease, let, transfer or assign his interest in the land or any part of the land without the written approval of the Commission. Any of these transactions involving the land will not have any effect until approved by the Commission. Owners must therefore apply to the Commission for approval before their transactions involving the land can be completed. This can hold up the completion of these transactions if the parties are unaware of this Act, and could expose the parties to liability for failing to complete on time, especially where time is of the essence.
Further, the Regulations to the Act require the parties to a transaction involving an agricultural unit of land to provide the Minister with information about the transaction, including the parties, the nature of the transaction and its possible effects on the land.
Investigative powers of the Commission
For the purpose of performing its duties under the Act, the Commission may require owners or occupiers of agricultural land to provide them with a wide range of information pertaining to their land. Any member of the Commission or a person authorized in writing on that behalf may enter upon the land to:-
- inspect the condition of the land or any agricultural activity thereon;
- ascertain what crops are cultivated and the conditions under which such crops are so cultivated and the crops which are most suitable to be cultivated upon the land; or
- ascertaining the urgency of doing any agricultural activity upon the land.
Responsibilities of Owners and Occupiers of Agricultural Land Units
The Act imposes a responsibility on the owner or occupier of an agricultural unit of land measuring ten acres or more to farm the land. In determining whether the owner or occupier is fulfilling this responsibility under the Act the Commission will look at whether:- (a) the pasture is being maintained; (b) arable land is being cropped; and (c) the unit is stocked where the type of farming requires the keeping of livestock.
Moreover, arable land which has not been cropped or used for some agricultural purpose for two years or more shall be conclusively presumed as not being farmed.
Idle Land Order
Where it appears that the occupier of an agricultural unit is not fulfilling his responsibility to farm his agricultural land, the Commission, after affording to the occupier an opportunity to make representations to the Commission, may declare the land to be idle land by order.
If you don’t use it you could lose it
Where the Commission makes such an order and it comes into effect, the Commission may serve notice on the owner of the land to prepare and submit to the Commission, a development plan for the farming of the land. If the owner of the land fails to submit such a plan or fails to carry out the work outlined in the plan, within the specified timeframes in the plan, the Commission may certify this to the Minister, and the Minister will then have power to acquire the land or any part of it compulsorily as land needed for a public purpose.
Non-compliant Occupiers could pay per day
Similarly, where an occupier of the land is not carrying out the responsibilities under the Act to farm the land and the Commission has served a similar notice on him requiring a development plan for the land, if the occupier fails to submit a plan or fails to carry out the work outlined in the plan within the specified timeframes, the occupier will be liable to pay a penalty for each day that he fails to comply. If the penalty is not paid, the Resident Magistrate’s Court for the parish in which the idle land is situated, may make an order for the occupier’s interest in the land to be surrendered to the Government.
Reviewing your Development plan
The Commission may also make an order declaring land to be unused land as opposed to idle-land. While an unused land order is in force, the Commission will not only be able to require a development plan for the land, but will also be able to review the development and use of the land. Where an unused land order is made, the Commission will review the development of the land twelve months after the order is made, and again every twelve months until the land is being developed and used.
It is of utmost importance that owners and occupiers of land designated as agricultural land are aware of this important Act. For example, references to the Act should be placed into all Agreements pertaining to transactions involving agricultural land falling under the operation of the Act in order to adequately protect the owner. It is crucial for owners and occupiers to retain an experienced attorney in this regard.
Gabrielle Grant is an Associate in the Property Department at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.myersfletcher.com.This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.