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Floods and Houses
Recently we have seen many pictures of homes and businesses flooded. The floods have clearly caused great distress, inconvenience and expense. A lawyer's mind naturally turns to the question of who can be sued. There are, very speculatively, several people.
Is the seller liable? The standard questionnaires do not ask about floods. They should. The seller has an obligation not to mislead a buyer, nor to make any misrepresentations, but he has no positive obligation to reveal matters about which he is not asked. There seems no reason why he should not be asked whether the house or any part of it has been subject to flooding in te time when he has owned it. This is more commonly now asked as a separate question.
The Buyer has some responsibillity. In principle, it is his job to decide whether this is the house that he wants. He sees it in context. If it is on flat land not far from a major river, and stands only a few feet above the river level, then he may be at risk. If the house is at the bottom of a steep valley. He knows that all the water which collects from the hills around will pass by his house. He can himself ask the seller.
The conveyancer who acted when the house was bought - does he have any responsibillity?
The surveyor? He is concerned to reporyt the condition of the property. Surveyors have been known to report indications previous floodings, and to report anything which might affect the insurance premium. Liability to flooding may be one such alement.
The local authority> It seems to me that many floods are caused by changes in the use of land, sometimes many miles away, which have serious consequences, usually downstream. These can include more intensive use of upland fells, which leads to less water being retained on the hills, and rather more draining straight off ito water streams. Also the building of a site upstream with barriers to stop looding, can,by removing flood areas elsewhere, lead to more water coming downstream more quickly.
I once had a man who complained that his conveyancer (not us - but we would not have done any different) had not told him that the house he was buying was about 50 yards away from a railway. He had only visited at night before buying.
The Environment Agency now has a web-site at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk, which says it will list areas, according to their post code, saing what experience they have of flooding. It might always be worth a visit to cnsider either your own house if you might wish to come to sell, but also any house ou might want to buy.
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