How to avoid getting that sinking feeling

Our lawyer Fiona McNulty explains the legal obligations of vendors when selling a property with subsidence
Legal cartoon
© Merrily Harpur
Question: Please could you tell us if it is illegal to continue selling houses on an estate when it’s been discovered that there is subsidence?

Question: I think you may be referring to a situation where a housing estate has been built, one or more of the houses has suffered subsidence, and you want to know whether the owners of houses on the estate, knowing what has happened, can legally sell their properties.

The answer would be yes. However, if the houses are affected by subsidence they are likely to be difficult to sell: subsidence often blights properties and consequently can reduce their value.

Most subsidence is caused by shrinkage and swelling of clay soils, which can be due to the removal of water by trees or shrubs close to a property. But subsidence can also be caused by something beneath a property, such as a mine shaft or a leak from a drain which makes the ground under the foundations unstable.

A structural engineer or surveyor can provide a report detailing the cause of the subsidence and the remedies available. Buildings insurance should cover subsidence although many policies have a £1,000 excess.

Mortgage lenders are very wary of lending on houses affected by subsidence — although some will lend provided any historical subsidence has ceased, remedial works have been carried out, appropriate certificates of structural adequacy have been issued by the structural engineers or surveyors involved, and insurance cover is available.

The Property Information Form which a seller must complete when selling a property does not mention subsidence but a good lawyer will always raise enquiries of the seller about the issue.

What's your problem?

If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, email We regret that questions cannot be answered individually.

Fiona is a partner in the residential real estate team at Thring LLP

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