I have recently joined Clarion as Legal Director in the Property team. I have specialised in property litigation for over 15 years. During that time, I have dealt with property disputes including multi-million pound developments and a land dispute that ended up in the High Court. The unusual aspect of the last case was that the piece of land in dispute was so small that the other side's solicitor and I could not both stand on it at the same time!
In almost all of the issues that come across my desk, I will need to serve or review service of a document or notice. The purpose of the notice can be extremely varied, to make someone do something, to stop someone doing something, to start a process running or to bring a process to an end, sometimes a letter simply needs to arrive on time.
Content and service
Whether it be a notice to exercise an option, terminate a lease or implement a rent review, there will be rules governing the content of the notice and how it needs to be served. Established case law says that a notice must be clear and be obvious as to what the notice intends to achieve. Any minor errors will be overlooked if the overall effect of the notice is clear. For example, a notice to terminate a lease on 31 April would be deemed to have actually intended 30 April. However, if the document is specific as to how a notice must be served or what it must contain, those specific rules must be complied with. The classic example is that if a notice is required to be served on blue paper, an identical notice served on pink paper will not be a valid notice.
Where to serve?
In May, a case on service of notices came before the Court of Appeal (Grimes v The Trustees of the Essex Farmers and Union Hunt). The parties were landlord and tenant of agricultural land. The lease stated that the tenant’s address was “24 Glebe Way” and the lease provided for any notices to be served on the tenant at the address given in the lease or such other address as has previously been notified in writing. At the date of entering into the lease, the tenant had already moved from 24 Glebe Way and had notified the landlord of its change of address under a previous lease. The landlord denied receiving the letter confirming the change of address. The landlord served a notice to terminate on the tenant and the tenant refused to vacate. When a new tenant was installed on the land, the previous tenant brought proceedings for a declaration that the tenancy had not been validly terminated and that he had been wrongfully dispossessed of the land as a result.
The landlord argued that they had served notice on the address given in the lease, in accordance with the terms of the lease. The wording of the lease allowed a notice to be served “at the address given in the particulars or such other address as has been previously been notified in writing”. The judge in the first instance Court held the notice had been validly served. Even if the landlord had received notification of the change of address, the word ‘or’ in the lease gave the landlord the choice of addresses at which to serve the notice. The tenant appealed. The Court of Appeal looked at the circumstances as a whole. Could it really be possible that one party to a contract could tell the other party of a change of address and yet it still be valid for a notice to be served at the old address? How could the recipient be expected to know what was in a notice left at premises it could no longer access? The Court of Appeal held that it cannot have been the parties intention that there were multiple address options for service of the notice. As such, the appeal was allowed and the tenant awarded compensation.
Lessons to learn
This case goes to show that whether serving a notice or receiving one, it is crucial that you obtain specialist advice to ensure that your position is protected and that the notice has the intended effect.
If you have any queries about this article, or serving a notice, please do not hesitate to contact Sophie Morley via firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0113 336 3436
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