Question: After moving in to our new property my wife complained of smelling gas when we used the combi boiler. We called the gas people, who switched off the gas and sealed the boiler. Apparently the previous owner, a property developer, did not use a registered gas installer. We now have no heating or hot water and I have to replace the boiler. I bought the property believing it had been renovated to a good standard but after moving in realised many things were not done properly. I had to fix the toilet, wiring and the roof. Can I sue the seller?
Answer: When you buy a property the doctrine of caveat emptor (buyer beware) applies. The buyer agrees to accept the property in its condition — both structurally and decoratively — at the date of exchange. Accordingly it is important to check the condition of the property prior to exchange of contracts and to ensure that the systems are in good working order. Unless you are buying a property which has a building guarantee, such as a National House Building Council (NHBC) guarantee, it is prudent to have a survey carried out.
You should have seen a Property Information Form completed by the seller which should have indicated when the new boiler was installed, if a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate was issued, when the boiler was last serviced or maintained and the electrics last tested.
If this information was unavailable the seller should have been asked to provide an annual gas safety record which shows that a Gas Safe Registered engineer has checked the gas appliances. By law, all gas engineers must be on the Gas Safe Register, which has replaced Corgi.
An electrical certificate should also have been requested.
If the seller failed to oblige, you should have had your own safety checks carried out prior to exchange. Unless the seller misrepresented the situation there is little you can do.
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Fiona is a partner in the residential real estate team at Thring LLP (www.thrings.com).
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