Pam Johns, Rural Services team leader at Coodes Solicitors, outlines five things landowners need to know about changes to mobile phone mast leases as a result of the new Electronic Communications Code.
Hosting masts for mobile phone providers can provide additional income for farmers. The Digital Economy Act 2017 came into force in December, bringing about changes to new leases for telecommunication masts through the new Electronic Communications Code. If you are a landowner and have–or are planning to have–a mast on your land, here are five things you need to know.
If you already have a lease for a mast on your land, your agreement with the owner will not change. However, if your lease is up for renewal or if you are considering having a mast on your land for the first time, you should familiarise yourself with the changes and seek legal advice before entering into negotiations for a new lease.
A key change in the legislation is that, under any new telecommunication agreements, the site operator will have the right to share with other phone operators without your permission. The Digital Economy Act also allows site operators to upgrade a mast without the landowner’s approval. However, this only applies to new agreements and not existing leases.
The operator can only upgrade or share its mast if it does not have a negative impact on you, as the landowner. The best way to ensure you are not adversely affected is to seek expert advice before signing an agreement.
Because new tenancies will not be governed by the 1954 Landlord and Tenant Act, operators will now have more rights. While this will simplify agreements between landowners and phone mast operators, it is likely to cause farmers some concern. However, the Act includes a number of instances when a landowner can bring a tenancy to a close. These include when the mast operator has breached the agreement or has delayed payment to the landowner. It can also apply when a mast is preventing a landowner from progressing with a new development. Again, get legal advice if you think this could apply to you.
There is concern among landowners that the new legislation will bring an end to healthy rents that farmers have enjoyed from telecommunication masts in recent years. Under the new legislation, the valuation for sites will now be based on the value to the landowner, rather than the operator. This could well lead to a reduction in rental values.
Prior to the new Act coming into force, concerns were raised among the farming community about the additional power being given to phone mast operators, at the expense of landowners. However, the Act does restrict the number of other operators the mast can be shared with. There is also clear guidance around ensuring that any changes to the mast do not negatively impact on the landowner. All in all, the Act is not as onerous as first feared but there are pitfalls and it is important to get good advice.