Posted on 21st March 2014

Disclosure Responsibilities of Those Selling Property

Martin Williamson, Head of Residential Property
There are many disclosure responsibilities that are in place to ensure that vendors do not fall foul of the law and buyers do not lose out. Problems can arise when those selling properties are not up to speed with some of those very responsibilities.

The common law principle of caveat emptor, or buyer beware, means that a seller of land is under no duty to disclose material facts to a prospective buyer. There is an exception to this principle: the seller must disclose latent defects that a buyer could not reasonably discover for himself by inspecting the property.

The caveat emptor principle can, however, put the buyer at a considerable disadvantage. His/her knowledge of the property will be less than that of the seller. It is therefore standard as part of the conveyancing process for the buyer to raise preliminary enquiries with the seller in order to discover information that materially affects the property up for sale. The vendor may be liable for misrepresentation if he provides any factually inaccurate replies to these enquiries.

One of the main disclosure points, and the most common cause of contention, is the need to be 100% honest about problem neighbours. However, this can be something of a grey area, as it is, in the main, subjective; one persons problem neighbour can be no issue to another neighbour.

If sellers are asked by prospective buyers about any problems they may have encountered with neighbours, it is advisable for them to stick to issues that might have a marked effect on the relationship between the buyer and their neighbours if they were to go on to buy the property. Obvious examples might include disputes over land or shared house maintenance, a dispute over boundary lines or the height of a hedge.

However, things like music being played loudly at night, or if a vendors neighbours have noisy kids, dont necessarily need to be mentioned as these kinds of issues are often subjective. Vendors should be careful, however, if theyre asked to confirm any of these issues in writing; as they need to be very sure that the information they provide is in fact factual. If they do not, they may be sued for disclosing false information later, especially if it relates to shared land or house maintenance.

In general, however, as long as any dispute does not affect anything material about the house or property on which it stands, and vendors are not being asked to disclose information in writing, they shouldnt necessarily feel obliged to disclose everything, as its not a legal necessity.

On a final note, if there are any material matters about which vendors are unsure whether to disclose or not, please seek advice from a solicitor, in order to prevent any problems arising after a sale has gone through.

Martin Williamson is Head of Residential Property at Latimer Hinks Solicitors in Darlington. Latimer Hinks has a team of around 40 people serving private and corporate clients. For further information: call 01325 341500.