Property misrepresentation claims - against seller

Buying a new home is one of the most stressful things you will do in life and is probably the most expensive purchase that you will ever make. It therefore goes without saying that when buying a property, you will want to make sure that there is nothing wrong with it, before you buy.

The legal position is the well known phrase, caveat emptor or ‘buyer beware’, which essentially means that it is your responsibility as a purchaser, to make all of the necessary checks and enquiries on a property, before you buy it. You will therefore be advised, usually by your solicitors, to ensure that you get a survey of the property before you purchase.

Sometimes however, a surveyor may not be able to pick up everything that may be wrong with a property, maybe because they have been unable to access a particular area or because the issue has been hidden or covered up, by the seller.

If you think you may have a claim for property misrepresentation and wish to discuss it with us, call our specialist team on 0203 816 9314 or complete our online enquiry form

Duty of the seller

Unfortunately, there is no duty on the seller of a property to disclose any issues or defects with the property, voluntarily. A seller does however have a duty to answer all enquiries in relation to the property honestly and accurately. Standard enquiries are usually made by the seller being asked to complete the sellers property information form, which is a standard form produced by the Law Society. This asks a number of questions relating to the property and any issues relating to it and the surrounding area, that are within the knowledge of the seller. Your solicitor may also ask further specific enquiries throughout the course of the conveyancing process, which again, the seller has a duty to answer accurately and honestly.

Seller lied on property information form

So, what happens if a seller lies on the property information form or in response to specific enquiries?

This can result in a claim for misrepresentation against the seller. The sellers property information form and replies to enquiries, form part of the contract between you and the seller. It is therefore a breach of that contract if they knowingly misrepresent any of the answers on the form and you then rely on those representations in purchasing the property.

Our property dispute solicitors have acted for numerous clients who have found themselves in this situation. Examples of the types of misrepresentations that we have seen are as follows:

  • Structural issues that require extensive remedial works
  • Damp
  • Disputes with the neighbours to the property
  • Proposed planning in the area that could effect the value of the property
  • The presence of Japanese Knotweed in the garden

The above list is by no means exhaustive and there can be a range of other issues that arise.

Bringing a claim for seller misrepresentation

If you wish to bring a claim against a seller for misrepresentation, you firstly have to show that they have answered an enquiry inaccurately or incorrectly and then you have to be able to prove that the seller was aware of the issue before you bought the property. The latter can sometimes be more difficult to prove and usually speaking with neighbours who may be willing to give a statement to support your case, can be very helpful evidence. 

If you can prove your case, you may then have a claim against the seller to rescind the contract, which means to cancel the contract, return the property to them and you get back all that you have spent. If the issue is considered to be minor or capable of rectification however, the court may find that it is more proportionate for your claim to be one for damages to reflect either the cost of any remedial works or the diminution in the value of the property.

It is also important to consider in situations like this, if you instructed a surveyor to assess the property before you purchased it, whether the surveyor ought to have noticed the issues with the property, in particular if they relate to the condition of the property. You may therefore have a potential professional negligence claim against the surveyor also. 

If you think you may have a claim for property misrepresentation and wish to discuss it with us, call our specialist team on 0203 816 9314 or complete our online enquiry form

Property misrepresentation FAQs

Can a home buyer sue the seller?

If you have bought a house in England and Wales, with problems not disclosed by the vendor (seller), then you may be within your rights to sue or rescind the contract. From nightmare neighbours to damp walls and pest issues, a seller is legally required to state anything that is wrong with the property, before completing a sale. However, it does depend on the defect discovered by the home buyer and when they discovered it as to what action they are within their rights to take. If a defect is discovered in between exchange and completion, the buyer has the right to refuse to complete the sale, request a specific amount to be knocked off the purchase price or be entitled to damages. If the buyer discovers a defect after completion, the buyer may be able to claim damages in respect of a breach of contract or misrepresentation or they may be able to rescind the contract altogether. As a buyer, you are entitled to claim damages if there is a significant difference between the description or value of the property and how it actually is. Don’t suffer in silence if you have been mis-led when buying your home. 

Is a verbal offer on a property legally binding?

In England and Wales, an offer on a property isn’t legally binding until contracts are exchanged. An offer can be made verbally (over the phone or in person) but this should not be taken as final. In reality, there can be up to several weeks between a verbal offer and the signing of contract. Until contracts are exchanged, a buyer’s verbal offer is ‘subject to contract’ which means the price can still be negotiated (usually in the instance of a survey revealing a problem).

 

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Undisclosed issues which can lead to misrepresentation claims

Neighbour disputes

Disputes with neighbours are extremely common, they can arise in the instance of fairly minor issues but sometimes they can be more significant. In some instances the disputes lead to physical violence and the police being called. Homeowners often want to move because of their neighbours. It is always best, if possible for the dispute to be avoided and if that is not possible resolved and for there to be written evidence of how it was resolved before the sale.

These issues may then transfer to the new owner of the property and cause distress when they should be enjoying their new home. The seller is asked in section 2 of the seller’s property information form to outline ongoing disputes, historic disputes and potential issues of dispute for the future. If details are omitted or misleading the seller may need face a claim for misrepresentation and a claim for damages to compensate the buyer, for example for loss in value of the property. However, the level of this compensation will depend on multitude of factors and the unique circumstances.

Noise disruption

Nearly a third of people living in the UK encounter some sort of noise issues with their neighbours. Sometimes property sellers arrange viewings to take place at a time when they know noise does not occur or is less likely to occur and this can be misleading for the potential buyer. If noise has been an issue to the person selling the property it must be disclosed on the seller's property information form.

Noise disturbance can take many forms from arguments, noisy pets, loud children, loud music, parties, carrying out DIY or gardening at inappropriate times to name a few. However, what one person considers unbearable another may consider tolerable. For instance, if the buyer themselves has a lively family or pets the noise from neighbours may not have the same level of irritation. However, this is subjective so noise disputes need to be outlined specifically by the seller, including details of type and frequency of noise.

If the seller has considered the disturbance so distressing that they have notified the police or the local authority they need to disclose this including the date it was reported and if a resolution was achieved or if it remains an ongoing issue.

If noise has been an issue the seller should disclose it and make clear that they have reduced the price accordingly to reflect this. Advice should have been sought about how much to reduce the price by.

If noise disruption has not been disclosed and the price has not been reduced and you are encountering distress you may be able to claim misrepresentation compensation from the buyer.

Flooding

Annually around 5 million properties are at risk of river and surface water flooding. The impact of a flooding can be devastating. Some property sellers are so keen to sell their home that they do not disclose historic flooding on the seller’s property information form.

Sellers need to be open and honest and not mislead the purchaser about historic flooding so a buyer can ascertain the likelihood of reoccurrence. This allows the buyer to make an informed choice before proceeding with the risk considered in the purchase price.

Some flooding may be picked up on the environmental searches, for example if the property is located in a flood risk area, but not all of it as there are different types of flooding including: sewer, surface, ground, river and coastal. Flooding should be declared if it has occurred in any part of the property including the garden, any land and outbuildings.

In addition to not specifying if flooding has occurred, a seller who specifies that flooding has occurred must not mis-lead or exaggerate regarding the preventative steps that have been taken. For instance, disclosing soakaways in the garden where they do not exist, exaggerating flood defences and flood proofing as well as underplaying the instances of how frequently flooding has occurred.

If you have purchased a property and experienced flooding that causes damage or has an impact on the value of your property, you may have a claim for misrepresentation against the seller. If the flooding also occurred prior to your purchase and you have evidence of such, but the seller did not inform you of this in the seller’s property information form then you may be able to recover your losses from the seller.

Appoint a solicitor to review the circumstances and take the dispute up with the seller if appropriate. We have represented clients whose homes and commercial premises have flooded and have successfully demonstrated that the correct disclosures had not been made to the purchaser. 

If you think you may have a claim for property misrepresentation as a result of an undisclosed neighbour/noise dispute or non-disclosed flooding and wish to discuss it with us, call our specialist team on 0203 816 9314 or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you directly. 

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