Problem Neighbours and the Conveyancing Process
Problem neighbours can make life a misery – and may well be a contributory factor for some people deciding to move. Problem neighbours may also raise difficult questions and issues when it comes to the conveyancing process.
Anyone trying to sell their home will want to do everything to make the property as appealing to potential buyers as they possibly can. However, there may be some situations where a seller is legally obliged to disclose information which could have a direct, negative impact on the marketability of their property.
Problem Neighbours and ConveyancingAs part of the standard conveyancing process the buyer’s conveyancing solicitor or conveyancer will ask the seller – or their solicitor / conveyancer – a number of questions about the property. The purpose of these questions is to ensure that the buyer knows as much about the property as possible before they exchange contracts and become bound to either complete on the sale or forfeit their deposit.
Answering Questions about Problem NeighboursQuestions which will be asked in relation to most sales include those about the boundaries of the property and whether there are any unresolved disputes with neighbours. The Seller’s Property Information Form or Questionnaire is generally used during the conveyancing process to provide this information. The Law Society has issued a standard version of this form but some solicitors or conveyancers may have prepared their own version. Even if a slightly different form is used it is still likely to cover much the same territory as the Law Society version.
Any information provided in the Property Information Form will become part of the contract that the buyer and seller will exchange if the sale proceeds. It is, therefore, vital that the information included on the form by the seller is correct.
Whilst the definition of a problem neighbour may be somewhat subjective, the questions asked as part of the conveyancing process tend to be quite broad. Questions about problem neighbours could include asking whether there are any existing disputes – or even whether any circumstances exist which could lead to a dispute. The seller must answer any such questions honestly and may also be required to give further information if they confirm that there is an issue regarding a dispute with the neighbours.
Legal Action for Failure to Disclose Problem NeighboursBearing in mind the potentially subjective aspect of what constitutes a problem neighbour, some sellers may be tempted to err on the side of tolerance when completing the form. All those nights lying awake because of the booming bass reverberating through the wall next door may fade from memory.... That ferocious dog which snapped at you over the fence whenever you came home may, on reflection, have been rather loveable... The neighbour’s complaints about your car being parked on their side of the boundary fence were really just friendly comments... As tempting as it may be to bend the truth, it could prove to be a very costly mistake.
Whilst there may be no outright obligation to tell a buyer about every potential problem, there is an obligation to answer questions truthfully. A buyer is likely to proceed to exchange contracts – or to complete on a sale – based on the information and responses provided by the seller. If the buyer then discovers that this information was either misleading or false they may well have the grounds to take court action against the seller. Failure to disclose a problem when a seller has made an official complaint to the council or the police will be particularly hard to explain away as having been due to subjectivity.
Perhaps the safest approach for a seller to take when answering any questions asked by the buyer or their conveyancer is to give the answer that the seller would expect of they were the buyer. Knocking a few thousand pounds off the sale price could make more sense than opening one’s self up to liability for a court case that could cost tens of thousands of pounds – or more.