The legal world is excited about a recent decision of the Court of Appeal concerning a notice to quit an agricultural holding. The facts are unusual in that there was an unwritten tenancy agreement that was protected under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. The landlord died and the landlord’s executor served a notice to quit on the person he knew to be the longstanding tenant. Unbeknown to the executor, the tenant had set up a new company and assigned the unwritten tenancy to the company a few days before the notice to quit was served. He did not inform the executor who therefore had no idea that the company existed and had become the tenant.
There was no dispute about the validity of the assignment but the original tenant said that the notice to quit was invalid because it was addressed to and served on him and not the company. The landlord argued that the notice was valid because the original tenant would have been in no doubt that it was being addressed to the tenant and was intended to bring the tenancy to an end. Both the County Court and the High Court agreed with the landlord and upheld the validity of the notice to quit.
Those decisions have now been reversed by the Court of Appeal in a judgment that includes a wide-ranging review of the decisions around when it is possible for the Court to correct an incorrectly worded notice and when it is not. The judgment is very clear that “a notice addressed to A and received by A cannot be regarded as being a notice given to B, even if A knows that B would have been the correct recipient of it.” The lead (and only) judgment was delivered by Lord Justice Lewison, who also said that he had reached that conclusion with some reluctance, because it seemed to him to be clear that the landlord fell into a trap wittingly or unwittingly created by the tenant, but that he did not think that, consistently with principle, the Court could rescue him from it.