Facts of the case
Mr Morris granted an oral agricultural tenancy to Mr Thomas. Mr Morris and his successor landlord, Jane Jones, both died during the course of the tenancy and Mr Owen became the landlord when he obtained a grant of probate in respect of Ms Jones’ estate on 4 June 2019.
The tenant, Mr Thomas, incorporated a company on 30 October 2019 and assigned his tenancy to the company on 1 November 2019. Mr Thomas was the sole director and shareholder of the company and its registered office address was Mr Thomas’ residential address.
The landlord, Mr Owen, served a notice to quit on 4 November 2019. That notice was addressed to Mr Thomas and served at his address. The question was whether the notice which should have been addressed to the company, was valid despite being addressed to Mr Thomas personally.
Judgments at first instance and first appeal
Both the County Court at first instance and the High Court said that the notice to quit was valid, despite not being addressed to the company. They said that the notice clearly conveyed an intention on the part on the part of the landlord to require the person who was in fact the tenant to deliver up possession of the land. The company alone met that description and so the notice was valid.
The Court of Appeal
But the Court of Appeal disagreed saying that it did matter to whom the notice was addressed, even though Mr Thomas knew that the landlord was unaware that he had assigned the lease to his company.
The Court said that a notice where the name of a correctly identified recipient is wrongly spelled might still be valid, a notice where the recipient is wrongly identified is not. A notice addressed to and received by Person A cannot be regarded as being a notice to Person B (or, in this case, Company B), even if Person A knows that the notice was intended for Person B. Whilst the Court expressed sympathy with the landlord, it ruled in favour of the tenant.
The lesson for Landlords
On one level it can be easy to view the case as having limited applicability, as it concerned an oral tenancy whereas most leases and tenancies will be governed by a written agreement which will spell out any notice requirements.
But the case does have wider applicability and it is a useful reminder to landlords of the importance of ensuring that notices are both addressed to and served on the correct tenant(s). An error in either of these respects will invalidate a notice to quit even if it would have been obvious to the reasonable recipient. The invalidity may not be appreciated until the case comes to court for a possession order and it will then be dismissed because the contractual tenancy has not been validly terminated. It is worth taking extreme case over notices to quit in order to avoid such disappointment, delay and wasted expense.
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