The recent decision in OG Thomas Amaethyddiaeth CYF v Turner  EWCA Civ 1446 has clarified that the ‘reasonable recipient’ test in Mannai does not extend to cover situations where a landlord serves notice on an incorrectly identified tenant. This will be something that affects notices served in respect of any type of tenancy.
In this case, the tenant had assigned the leasehold of an AHA tenancy to his own company. The landlord, being unaware that the tenancy had been assigned, served a notice to quit on the original, individual tenant at his home address, which was also the company’s registered office. Neither the tenant nor the company served a counter-notice, and the landlord subsequently brought a claim seeking validation of the notice to quit.
At first instance, it was held that the notice to quit was valid despite having been addressed to the original tenant as a reasonable recipient would have appreciated that a mistake had been made in naming the tenant and would have read it as having been addressed to the company. This was confirmed on a first appeal. The tenant appealed again.
The Court of Appeal has concluded that the test laid down by Mannai Investment Co Ltd v Eagle Star Life Assurance Co Ltd  does not apply where the recipient of a notice was wrongly identified. The case confirmed:
- The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 s. 93 was concerned with service of documents and did not require a notice to quit to take any particular form.
- The contents of a notice had to satisfy the requirements of the common law. Therefore, where it was addressed to a person by name, the person to whom it was served had to be correctly identified.
- A notice could be rescued where the name of a correctly identified recipient was wrongly spelled. However, it could not be rescued where the recipient was wrongly identified.
The question in Mannai was whether the reasonable recipient had been left in no doubt that the right reserved was being exercised. In this case, the Court of Appeal held that since the reasonable recipient in the tenant’s shoes knew that the landlord was unaware of the assignment, he would not have understood the notice as referring to the company. It was therefore not a verbal error, but a factual one.
Points to note in practice
This may seem a harsh decision, but the logic is that the notice was always served on someone who was not a tenant and, accordingly, the test in Mannai does not apply to the service of notices on incorrectly identified tenants; it applies to overcome errors in notices served on the right party. The leading judgment put as follows: this was a case of a notice having been served on A and received by A rather than served on B and received by B.
It was hard on the landlord as they simply did not know of the change in tenant, but as the Court of Appeal identified, this lack of knowledge could have been overcome by the notice to quit having been drafted differently.
Most importantly, this decision will be of relevance to the application of Mannai principles generally and therefore beyond the mere confines of agricultural tenancies. It is therefore of vital importance that all landlords take great care when preparing to serve notices, in order to avoid issues further down the line.
If you would like to discuss the issue raised in this article or any other property matter, please get in touch with the Property Litigation team by emailing email@example.com and we would be happy to assist you.