Launching possession proceedings against residential tenants is a serious matter and, in order to ensure fairness, landlords are bound to comply strictly with procedural rules when embarking on such a course. In a case on point, an obvious typographical error very nearly stymied a landlord’s attempt to take action over alleged rent arrears.
On the basis that his assured shorthold tenants had fallen more than £3,500 behind on their rent, the landlord served them with notices of proceedings for possession under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 on 7 November 2018. The notices stated that court proceedings would not be commenced until after 26 November 2017.
The latter date was a typographical error in that the year stated should have been 2018. A judge subsequently found that, although the error was an obvious one, the notices were invalid because the strict statutory requirement that tenants be given at least two weeks’ notice of impending possession proceedings had not been complied with.
In upholding the landlord’s challenge to that decision, the Court of Appeal found that the 2017 date specified in the notices made no sense and that any reasonable recipient would have realised that something had gone wrong. A reasonable recipient would also have been aware that typing an adjacent digit to that intended is amongst the most common forms of typographical error.
The purpose of giving tenants at least two weeks’ warning of the commencement of possession proceedings was to enable them to deal with such proceedings by, for example, trying to pay off rent arrears, taking professional advice or seeking alternative accommodation. Given the obvious nature of the typographical error, the notices had achieved that purpose and were therefore valid.