Court of Appeal decision exposes need for stringent controls when serving notices to tenants

Ref. Saxon Weald Homes Limited v Chadwick [2011] EWCA Civ 1202

The above case is an excellent example and warning to landlords and solicitors presenting notices to tenants, particularly during short term tenancy agreements.

The case concerns an inadvertent conversion of an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) to an assured tenancy. By way of providing legal background, the most relevant difference in this instance between an AST and an assured tenancy is that it is fairly easy to evict assured shorthold tenants under the section 21 (Housing Act 1988) grounds for possession by serving a notice under that section.

Should a landlord wish to terminate an assured tenancy, however, this is significantly more complex.

The tenant in this case was allowed an AST for a probationary period constituting one year. This year was almost up when the landlord sought possession of the property under alleged claims of anti-social behaviour. The proper processes were followed and the landlord’s solicitors issued a notice requiring possession under section 21(4)(a) of the Housing Act 1988.

Unfortunately, soon after these events an employee of the landlord sent, in error, a letter to the tenant confirming that the probationary period was now over and that the tenant had now become an ‘assured tenant’. The tenant argued that his tenancy had become assured, changing the face of the process of possession.

Although the landlord argued against this, citing the Mannai principle evident in Barclays Bank v Bee [2001] EWCA Civ 1126, a common get out clause for landlords, the Court of Appeal decided that the letter was unambiguous in its wording and that it was not the tenant’s responsibility to investigate any potentially conflicting correspondence if the most recent correspondence was clear and unambiguous.

This case provides a lesson to all landlords: when sending notices to tenants, particularly standard letters as in this case, extreme care and stringent processes must be in place to ensure mistakes are not made. Crucial errors can lead to undesirable consequences including, as in this case, an inability to regain possession of a property.

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