Minnesota statutes governing notice of farm tenancy termination is relatively limited. The legislature provides certain protections for farm tenants under a life estate, but other farm tenancies are subject to the same notice statutes as other leases.  However, the courts are likely to require greater notice requirements for agricultural tenancies.

Farm Tenancies at Termination of Life Estate

Subdivision 1. Definition.
For the purposes of this section, “farm tenancy” is a tenancy involving 40 or more acres of tillable land or crop land rented for agricultural purposes.
Subdivision 2. Continuation of tenancy.
Upon the death of a life tenant between March 2 and the following October 31, a farm tenancy granted by the life tenant shall continue until the earlier of the following March 1, the completion of harvest, or the expiration of the lease by its terms. If a life tenant dies between November 1 and the following March 1, the farm tenancy shall continue for the following crop year and shall terminate on the earlier of the March 1 following that crop year, the completion of harvest, or the expiration of the lease by its terms. However, if the lease is binding upon the remainderperson by specific commitment of the remainderperson, the lease shall terminate as provided by that commitment.
Subdivsion 3. Rental value.
A remainderperson who is required by subdivision 2 to continue a tenancy shall be entitled to a rental amount equal to the prevailing fair market rental amount in the area. If the parties cannot agree on a rental amount, either party may petition the district court for a declaratory judgment setting the rental amount. The costs of the action shall be apportioned between the parties by the court.

Minnesota’s statutory notice of termination requirements designed specifically for agricultural tenancies apply only to the termination of a life estate.  The protections provided in this statute are further limited only to tenancies involving 40 acres or more and those for tillable or crop land only.  This likely excludes tenancies for pastureland.

Under the common law, a life tenant cannot transfer an interest greater than their estate, and, therefore, tenancies with a life tenant typically terminate at the end of the life estate.  The Minnesota legislature has altered this rule in relation to agricultural tenancies.  The law extends the tenancy long enough to provide a farm tenant the ability to harvest crops already planted, to use some preparations that might have been made on the land before the life estate ended, and to find additional land to farm.

Farm Tenancies at Will

Minnesota statutes also provide notice requirements for tenancies at will, but with no distinction made for agricultural leases.

(a) A tenancy at will may be terminated by either party by giving notice in writing. The time of the notice must be at least as long as the interval between the time rent is due or three months, whichever is less.
(b) If a tenant neglects or refuses to pay rent due on a tenancy at will, the landlord may terminate the tenancy by giving the tenant 14 days notice to quit in writing.

As many agricultural leases require the payment of rent twice a year, the notice of termination of a farm tenancy likely must be given at least three months prior to the termination date.  This provides a greater notice period than many other states, but does not take into account the timing of the notice or the termination in relation to customary farm practice cycles.

Farm Tenancies for a Term

There are no notice of termination statutes that apply to a farm tenancy for a specified amount of time.  This type of tenancy simply terminates at the end of the period or on the date specified in the agreement, and no notice is required.  This is common in most states, with perhaps Iowa being the only exception.  The parties are free to agree to any duration provided it does not exceed 21 years.[1]  It should also be noted a lease for a term exceeding a year that is not in writing will be considered a tenancy at will and requires the statutory notice discussed in the previous section.[2]

Implied Tenancy for a Term: The Blad v. Parris Case

While no notice is required to terminate such a tenancy, a tenant might be able to establish an implied lease for an additional year due to a landlord’s silence regarding extension.  This could, in essence, create some type of notice requirement that a lease will not be extended. A Minnesota appellate court found an implied lease where the parties had entered, at the beginning of the calendar year a written lease agreement for a term of one year for the previous five years; the tenants requested notice of rent changes by October 1 of the crop year due to the practice of applying fall fertilizer in preparation for the following crop year; the tenants sent a letter inquiring about a new lease on February 27, a deposit to the landlord that was delivered April 6, and the first half of the rent on May 1 when the tenants also planted corn on the property; and the landlord did not respond that the property was rented to a third party until May 2.[3]

It is settled law that a holdover tenant that has the consent of the landlord becomes a year to year tenant.  However, the court in Blad v. Parris upholds the trial courts finding of the formation of a new contract for a one year term based on the landlord’s conduct, or an implied contract.  An implied contract requires an offer, an acceptance, and consideration, as with other contracts.  However, acceptance may be implied from a party’s silence “where the relationship between the parties is such that the offeror is justified in expecting a reply, or where the offeree is under a duty to reply . . . .”[4]  While the court does address the tenant’s holding over and the late nature of the landlord’s notification of his intent not to continue the lease arrangement–what could be construed as the required consent for a year to year tenancy–it expressly examines these aspects in the context of the tenant’s request for notification of rent changes by October 1 and “in light of the nature of the farming business” to find that the landlord’s silence could be interpreted as acceptance.[5]  Therefore, the court allows the required expectation by the tenant or duty of the landlord to reply to arise from these circumstances to create an implied lease.

This is significant as it could require a landlord to notify a tenant in advance of the termination date that the lease will not be extended, despite the lease being for a set term.  However, the case leaves some matters uncertain.  Did the landlord’s duty to notify the tenants that the lease would not be renewed arise before October 1, the date for the requested notification for rent increases; prior to the fall application of fertilizer; or not until after the February 27 letter inquiring about the new lease agreement?  While the landlord did not have any request to respond to, other than the request for notification of rent increases, until February 27, the court’s reliance on the October 1 date and the “nature of the farming business,” which requires planning in advance of the new crop year for matters such as fall fertilizer application, lends support to the notion of an earlier notification date.

The finding of an implied lease for a term, rather than a year to year tenancy based on holding over with consent of the landlord, also affects the future procedures required for a landlord to terminate a tenancy, and, therefore, also the rights held by farm tenants.  As discussed below, a year to year tenancy requires the statutory notice of a tenancy at will, while a tenancy for a term automatically terminates at the expiration of the term with no notice required, unless, of course, the landlord’s silent conduct establishes another implied lease for a term.

Thus, in light of the this case, it is prudent for a Minnesota landlord to provide notice that a lease will not be renewed or extended prior to the tenant taking action for the following year.  Further, a tenant offering an extension prior to the termination date and outlining their plans to prepare the land for the next crop year in accordance with the nature of the farming business establishes a better case for an implied lease if the landlord fails to respond.

Year to Year Farm Tenancies

As discussed above, if a tenant holds over after the expiration of a tenancy for a term with the consent of the landowner, the tenancy becomes year to year.[6]  Under such circumstances the termination still must take place at one year intervals from the expiration of the original lease term, but unlike the original tenancy for a term, statutory notice must be given in the same manner as with a tenancy at will.[7]

[1] Minn. Cost. Art. 1 § 15.

[2] Hagen v. Bowers, 233 N.W. 822, 822-23 (Minn. 1931).

[3] Blad v. Parris, 2010 WL 1850240 (Minn. App.).

[4] Blad v. Parris, 2010 WL 1850240 (Minn. App.) (citing Holt v. Swenson, 90 N.W.2d 724, 728 (Minn. 1958).

[5] Blad v. Parris, 2010 WL 1850240 (Minn. App.).

[6] Hunter v. Frost, 49 N.W. 327, 328 (Minn. 1891).

[7] State Bank of Loretto v. Dixon, 7 N.W.2d 351, 353 (Minn. 1943).