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Correct service of legal documents may seem like a technicality to non-lawyers, but it is of crucial importance and should only be entrusted to professionals. In one case that resoundingly proves the point, a landlord who served a notice to quit on the wrong address was left facing a six-figure damages and legal costs bill.
The case concerned an agricultural tenancy of land. The lease provided that either party could serve any notice on the other at a particular address or such other address as had previously been notified in writing. The notice to quit was served on the address specified in the lease, although the tenant had given notice in writing that he had moved nearly six years previously to a new home.
The tenant was dispossessed of the land after the landlord let it to another tenant. Having not received the notice to quit, he was taken by surprise and launched proceedings. However, in initially dismissing his claim, a judge found that, on a literal reading of the lease, the notice had been validly served on the specified address and concluded that the lease had thus been validly terminated.
In upholding the tenant's challenge to that decision, the Court of Appeal found that the judge had erred in his interpretation of the lease. His reading of the document would lead to a surprising conclusion that would leave the door open to less than scrupulous landlords serving documents on tenants' original addresses in the knowledge that they had moved out.
As a matter of commercial common sense, the landlord and tenant must have intended that the new address, once duly notified in writing, would supersede the original address given in the lease. In the circumstances, the lease had not been validly terminated and the landlord was ordered to pay the tenant £31,500 in damages and the six-figure legal costs of the action.