Possession notices: Whether the ‘reasonable recipient’ test applies when an error is made in a landlord’s possession notice (Pease v Carter – 2020)
Where a landlord makes an error in its notice seeking possession of a property, does the ‘reasonable recipient’ test set down in an earlier case apply such that the notice can remain valid?
In Pease v Carter and another , the landlord served notice on his tenants to commence possession proceedings under s.8 of the Housing Act 1988. Although the notice was signed and dated 7 November 2018, a typographical error stated that the earliest date proceedings would commence was 26 November 2017, rather than 2018.
At first instance, the Court found that the landlord’s notice could remain valid despite the error, and this decision was appealed by the tenants. On appeal, the landlord relied on the ‘reasonable recipient’ test set down in Mannai Investment v Eagle Star Life Assurance , which stated that an error will not invalidate a notice if:
- A ‘reasonable recipient’ would appreciate that the notice contained an error and would have no doubt as to what the notice intended to say
- The notice otherwise complies with statutory requirements
However, a further case Fernandez v McDonald  found that the ‘reasonable recipient’ test did not apply to s.8 Housing Act 1988 notices. The judge in Pease upheld this and allowed the tenants’ appeal. The landlord applied further to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal allowed the landlord’s appeal. Statutory notices such as this should be interpreted according to Mannai, applying the ‘reasonable recipient’ test. The typographical error contained in the notice was an obvious mistake, and the reasonable recipient would have understood that the date should have referred to 2018, and not 2017.
The notice otherwise met statutory requirements. Fulfilling its statutory purpose, the notice was therefore ‘substantially to the same effect’ as a prescribed form.
Advice and action
Positively, this case provides that a landlord can be saved by application of the ‘reasonable recipient’ case even if a straightforward error is made in its statutory notice to commence possession proceedings.
Provided that a reasonable recipient would understand the effect of the notice notwithstanding the error, and where there is an obvious mistake, the notice need not be invalidated.
The Court of Appeal allowed the landlord’s appeal. The typographical error contained in the notice was an obvious mistake, and the reasonable recipient would have understood that the date should have referred to 2018, and not 2017.