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Liability after contract exchange

LostTheMarbles
LostTheMarbles Posts: 20
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edited 2 February at 11:43AM in House buying, renting & selling

A few weeks ago, during what we believed to be the final stages of our lengthy probate-driven buying process, we received a call from the estate agents. They informed us about some damage to the detached garage, specifically mentioning that the window frames had fallen out.

Upon inspecting the garage, it was clear that the wall facing our garden had shifted significantly and was perilously close to collapse (see attached image).

Since then, the sellers have assured us they had "secured" the structure, however, it looks like they’ve propped it up with thin wooden planks that can’t even hold their own weight, let alone the weight of a brick wall.

We have already received a decent reduction in the purchase price after we noticed some cracks in the garage wall back in November but at the time we thought we’d caught it in time and would be able to fix it. Further delays in the purchase process meant that we weren’t able to get in there in time to do anything.

While we don’t want to back out of the purchase entirely, our primary concern revolves around the potential consequences if the garage were to collapse after the exchange of contracts, potentially causing harm or damaging the house next door. 

The stable side, a single course red brick wall forms the boundary with the neighbour's driveway. I’m concerned that removing the damaged side would leave this wall unsupported, likely leading to the remaining wall being blown over into the property next door. To add to that, the roof has been flagged as an asbestos risk so it’s not as simple as ripping the garage out by hand.

We’re not sure how to proceed in this situation, considering the safety risks and potential liabilities associated with the structural instability of the garage. Given that the damage is pre-existing, I can’t imagine it would be covered by building insurance.


Front corner of garage, pillar holding up roof beam above the door:

Shows sagging roof above where the window fell out as well as roof beam no longer sitting on brick work. Also gap in roof where asbestos sheets are separating.


Internal block partition wall compared to external red brick wall, wall has shifted outwards.

Comments

  • loubel
    loubel Posts: 792
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    You agree to buy a property in the condition it was in on exchange.  As it is currently falling down, don't exchange unless you are happy to buy it falling or fallen down. Either insist that the seller gets it sorted (probably unlikely if it's a probate sale) or exchange and complete on the same day and get your builders straight in to make it safe. 
  • eddddy
    eddddy Posts: 16,115
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    Presumably, you plan to demolish the garage (it doesn't look like it's savable).

    • If you want, you can tell the sellers that they must demolish it before you will agree to exchange contracts. But they might refuse.
    • Or if you exchange contracts, and it falls down before completion, you'll then be buying a property with a "fallen-down" garage.
    • If it falls down between exchange and completion, I can't see that you've been negligent, so I can't see that the neighbours could have any claim against you for damages. (They might have a claim against the current owners.)
    • However, you would probably have a duty of care to the neighbours once you own the property. So you should do what a reasonable person would do. Maybe warn the neighbours about the risk of collapse, and get the garage safely demolished (or made safe) as soon as possible - maybe on completion day.

    If you think the building currently poses a danger of injury or death (perhaps to the neighbours), you could report it as a dangerous structure to the council. But that's likely to result in big costs and hassle for the current owners, so it might be better to try to persuade the current owners to deal with it voluntarily.

  • Jude57
    Jude57 Posts: 524
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    edited 2 February at 1:45PM
    To begin with, could you get an asbestos removal firm to establish whether the roof contains harmful asbestos and quote for safe removal? And then get a couple of demolition firms round to quote for complete removal of the garage, as well as giving an opinion on whether that would leave the adjoining wall insecure. It might be necessary to repair/rebuild the adjoining wall but before you do that, are you certain it belongs to the property you're buying? If it doesn't, you'll need to have a conversation with the neighbours to decide how they want to proceed. You don't want to end up being permanently liable for the wall if you accept responsibility for rebuilding it when it's not yours.

    Your solicitor should be advising you on this but if it were me, and the vendors won't deal with it, I'd want the vendors to indemnify me against any and all claims arising from the unsafe garage until it is remedied, such remedy not to take longer than, say, six months or one year from the date of completion. That would show good faith by the vendors and cover you in the event of any claim by a third party, while giving you time to sort it out properly.
  • FreeBear
    FreeBear Posts: 14,246
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    That brick wall doesn't appear to have any piers (buttressing), so it is probably just the roof stopping from collapsing. As a temporary measure, some scaffolding could be erected on the neighbour's side to stop the wall falling in to their garden - I'd suggest that needs to be done as a matter of urgency.
    Longer term, the whole lot probably needs demolishing and rebuilt properly. And I don't think that wall is salvageable in any form.
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  • NameUnavailable
    NameUnavailable Posts: 2,779
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    Assuming that you haven't yet exchanged, this is the vendors problem, not yours.

    The wall/garage is clearly very unsafe as it is and needs to be urgently addressed (imagine that wall collapsing on the neighbour/a pet/a child etc.

    To start with I'd want it taken down or rebuilt (so they'll probably take it down) and the rubble disposed with.

    What do you want to do with that space? Are you going to build a new garage or car port etc.? If not I would also ask for the vendor to put a fence up to separate the gardens (the wall probably belongs to the house given it had a window in the side.
  • BobT36
    BobT36 Posts: 508
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    Unless they specifically said that the price is already excluding the garage, I'd want them to demolish it and knock money off in accordance to the current worth of the garage, or knock money off equivalent to how much demolishing the garage would cost to yourself. 
  • user1977
    user1977 Posts: 13,287
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    BobT36 said:
    Unless they specifically said that the price is already excluding the garage, I'd want them to demolish it and knock money off in accordance to the current worth of the garage, or knock money off equivalent to how much demolishing the garage would cost to yourself
    Both of these can't be true! Surely the current worth of the garage is negative?
  • BobT36
    BobT36 Posts: 508
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    Well yeah, unless they say the price is already "lower" to accommodate that, it's a minus either way? Just a matter of whether they bother to demolish it or let the OP do it. 
  • eddddy
    eddddy Posts: 16,115
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    BobT36 said:
    Well yeah, unless they say the price is already "lower" to accommodate that, it's a minus either way? Just a matter of whether they bother to demolish it or let the OP do it. 

    But I think the OP's original question was more about...

    "Who is liable if the garage falls over into the neighbours garden between exchange and completion...

    ... and damages the neighbour's expensive water feature; or leaves shards of asbestos fibre all over the neighbour's garden; or falls over onto a children's birthday party in the neighbour's garden."


  • BikingBud
    BikingBud Posts: 1,645
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    Currently it is not a garage but a liability and liabilities imply costs. 

    Personally I would at least want the garage and wall demolished, (whose wall is it, sole ownership or party wall?) and site cleared to remove any hazard, including asbestos. You then have a clear and safe site with scope to decide what you want to build and also when.

    Would also engage with neighbours to understand their position and ensure you are not entering a world of pain trying to rebuild.

    If you are set on the property then this might be reasonable but if it has other compromises that were previously marginal points, it might be worth moving on.
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