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Quit drafting the notice to quit

28 March 2023

The Court of Appeal has recently deemed a notice to quit invalid as it was addressed incorrectly, highlighting the importance of accuracy when preparing and serving notices.

The court considered the Mannai test when making its decision (Mannai Investment Co Ltd v Eagle Star Life Assurance Co Ltd).

In this 2022 case of O G Thomas Amaethyddiath v Turner & Ors, the original tenant assigned a lease to his company without the landlord knowing. Due to this being an oral tenancy with no written contract, there were no restrictions in relation to assignment.

Though the tenant was the sole director and shareholder of the company and the company’s registered address was the same as the tenant’s residential address, the court took the view that the notice to quit should have still been served on the company, not the tenant personally.

When the High Court first considered this case, they applied principles from Mannai (that a notice was still valid despite a mistake, so long as the intention of the notice was clear) and held that any reasonable recipient would have understood it to have applied to the company and to convey an instruction to vacate the premises.

Despite the Mannai case, the Court of Appeal ruled in Thomas v Turner that it was in fact invalid. The court applied the reasonable recipient test but found that – as Mr Thomas knew the landlord was unaware of the assignment – he would not have understood the notice to have applied to the company. The court proceeded to state that service on the incorrect recipient amounted to a failure to fulfil a fundamental condition, which was a substantial error and Mannai could therefore not be relied upon.

Allegedly, the court was reluctant to reach the decision it did because the tenant in this case had essentially set a trap which the landlord fell into. Nevertheless it ruled that as the name of the recipient was incorrect, the notice was invalid. However, perhaps if it had been addressed to ‘the tenant’, the decision may have been different.

Some may feel this was unfair, as the landlord didn’t know of the assignment. However, it is in keeping with the stricter approach legislation and case law is now taking with landlords when it comes to compliance obligations – highlighting the importance of having professionally drafted written tenancy agreements to ensure key terms and clauses are included to mitigate risk to landlords.

Moving forward, courts will likely continue to take a strict approach with landlords. Whether evicting tenants/occupants or entering a tenancy/lease, it is now more important than ever that professional advice is sought. If you do not have a written agreement – or it is poorly drafted – the court has made it clear that they will still apply the test strictly and will typically favour the tenant.

Landlords should therefore ensure that they take legal advice when entering into an agreement, including advice on the compliance obligations placed upon them. Professional guidance is especially important when looking to recover possession of property, where a failure to comply with the various requirements can result in landlords failing to recover possession, being fined or even – in the most extreme cases – imprisoned.

To get specialist advice on any of the above points, please do not hesitate to contact our landlord dispute specialists.

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Our Legal 500 and Chambers-rated litigation & dispute resolution team help private and commercial clients to resolve a wide range of disputes, including those related to property.

Disclaimer: All legal information is correct at the time of publication but please be aware that laws may change over time. This article contains general legal information but should not be relied upon as legal advice. Please seek professional legal advice about your specific situation - contact us; we’d be delighted to help.
Bethen Abraham LLB (Hons), LLM
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