An agent did not mislead a potential buyer by failing to disclose the existence of a mineshaft at a property, a judge has ruled.
The landmark case involved, for the first time, a case being brought under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
The legislation replaces the Property Misdescriptions Act and makes it incumbent on agents to reveal material facts about a property, even when they are not obvious.
Last autumn, Beresford Adams – part of Countrywide – was taken to court by Wrexham Trading Standards in Wales.
Magistrates found the firm guilty of failing to inform a purchaser about the mineshaft despite being aware other potential buyers had withdrawn from purchasing the semi because of it.
Beresford Adams was ordered to pay a £3,500 fine, £5,000 costs and to pay the complainant compensation of £515, representing the cost of searches and surveys incurred which would never have been commissioned had the information about the mineshaft been disclosed.
Countrywide subsequently announced it would be appealing against the decision.
At the appeal, Matthew McNiff, for Beresford Adams, said Wrexham Council had not submitted any evidence to show any person had been ‘knowingly’ involved. Trading Standards had gathered documentary evidence from files but had not approached or spoken to the branch manager.
Judge Dafydd Hughes said: “Had the investigation involved the manager, evidence may have emerged.”
After the case, Cllr David Griffiths of Wrexham Council, said: “This is a disappointing result for the council but it is important to note although this case has been overturned, it was lost on a technicality.”
A spokesperson for Beresford Adams said: “We note the court’s decision and have nothing further to add on the specific case.”
In guidance from the Office of Fair Trading, agents must not leave out important information. The guidance warns that breaches could lead to criminal enforcement action, unlimited fines and up to two years in prison.
Even if agents are not aware of a particular drawback or material feature, but should have been and fail to disclose it, then the agent could also be culpable.
The first link is how we reported the case last autumn. The second link is to the OFT guidance.