The Mannai test is a well-known and often used defence to allegations of invalid notices due to minor errors. Essentially in basic terms, if a reasonable recipient would have known what the notice was, what it should say and what action is required, then minor procedural errors such as misspelling, ticking the wrong box or in some cases wrong expiry dates, can be forgiven without impacting the validity of the notice.
This principle was recently cited in the Northwood Solihull Ltd v Fearn & Ors case regarding company signature on a notice that we previously blogged about. It was not the main authority in consideration in the Northwood case and so its impact was somewhat overlooked, but it was certainly important to some of the finer details about the notice in question in that case and often taken for granted. It is a safety blanket. However, to stretch the metaphor far longer than it should, you need to know how much weight a safety blanket can support otherwise you are in trouble.
This is where OG Thomas Amaethyddiaeth Cyf and another v Turner and others  is useful as it offers a little more clarity on the scope of this principle.
The case deals with a notice to quit served on an agricultural holding. However, given the wide range of cases to which the Mannai principle is cited and relied upon, I see no reason as to why any interpretation would not apply equally to other types of notice served whether that is a notice to quit on a common law agreement, a section 21 notice on an Assured Shorthold Tenancy or any notice required for a commercial lease.
The case dealt with the service of notice on the wrong tenant. Prior to serving notice, the tenant had assigned his lease from his personal name into that of his company via an executed Deed of Assignment. This assignment was authorised under the lease and so validly carried out, but the Landlord was not notified. When the landlord served the notice, he was unaware that the company existed nor that an assignment of the tenancy to the company had taken place. The notice to quit therefore was addressed to the individual directly and not the company, and was delivered to the individual at his address that incidentally also happened to be the registered address of the company. The notice was therefore not served to the correct tenant but the question was, did the Mannai test cover this error.
At first instance the notice was found to be valid, on the basis that the notice clearly showed that the landlord required possession from the tenant whoever that tenant was. The Court of Appeal however disagreed and held that that the notice to quit was invalid. Lord Justice Lewison stating that addressing a notice to quit to someone who is not in fact the tenant constitutes a failure to satisfy an essential requirement for the notice. The notice could not therefore be salvaged on the Mannai principle.
Whilst, this appears incredibly harsh on the landlord, this is the reality. Lord Justice Lewison acknowledged the same commenting that:
“I reach that conclusion with some reluctance, because it seems to me to be clear that the landlord fell into a trap wittingly or unwittingly created by the tenant. But I do not think that, consistently with principle, we can rescue him from it. I would allow the appeal.”
Irrespective of the harshness of this decision, it emphasises the need to go through your due diligence prior to serving notice, particularly if the lease that you are trying to end gives the tenant scope to make alterations that could impact the validity of any such notice. This is particularly true if the notice is served with time being of the essence or a ‘once and for all’ type notice. One could also argue that this further illustrates the importance of ensuring that the original lease has suitable protections in place so that a tenant would not be able to prejudice the landlord’s ability to serve notice correctly and with confidence.
Should you need any assistance with the construction of an agreement or serving notice, then professional advice is always recommended. We would certainly be happy to assist in this circumstance and I can be contacted on [email protected] to help where we can.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.