An estate agency has been fined £30,000 for waiting until minutes after the sale of a flat was completed to tell buyers that cladding on the outside of the building contained Aluminium Composite Material.
This was similar to the material found on Grenfell Tower.
The sale in question was of an apartment in Reading, handled by Haslams, a proiminent local agency.
According to local Trading Standards officers, the private flat in the centre of the town was marketed locally by Haslams, on instruction by Savills on behalf of the owner.
The buyer had their offer accepted on the property in October 2017.
However, on November 3 2017, an inspection of Hanover House found that the building’s cladding contained ACM, similar to the material found on the Grenfell Tower. While there was no immediate danger, measures were put in place to reduce risk including closing the building car park.
Haslams – which also let several flats in the block – was sent the information on ACM the same day as the inspection, that is November 3 2017.
This was before the date on which the buyers exchanged contracts.
However, a statement from Reading council claims that the information about the ACM cladding then sat with its lettings team and was not shared with its sales team.
When news of the ACM cladding became public on November 16, the Haslams sales team attempted to get instructions from Savills on what steps it should take.
The sale was completed on the following day, November 17. Half an hour after collecting the keys, the buyers were told by the Haslams sales team about the ACM.
The council says the only way the buyers could have found out about the ACM was from Haslams or from the seller, as it is not an issue highlighted by usual conveyancing searches.
The buyers subsequently made clear they would have withdrawn from the sale had they been made aware before completion.
At this time there was no government agreement in place to deal with ACM cladding, which meant the buyers faced unknown costs, potentially running into tens of thousands of pounds.
The buyers complained to Reading council’s Trading Standards team which investigated on their behalf.
A statement from the council says: “Haslams pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and offered in mitigation that it was of previous good character, had compensated the buyers for management fees and loss of car parking, co-operated fully with the investigation and that a government scheme was now in place that should manage the costs of replacing the cladding.”
The statement continues: “Haslams told magistrates that it had also taken action to improve communications between its lettings and sales teams and that it makes significant contributions to local charitable causes.”
Haslams was fined £30,000 and ordered by magistrates to pay costs of £2,646 and a victim surcharge of £170.