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Estate agents face prosecution over misleading information

Posted: 12th November 2012   In: Dispute Resolution, Residential Conveyancing

Three estate agents face prosecution for printing misleading information about the size of a garden in a property they were selling - even though they included various disclaimers.

In the brochure they described the house as a “charming period, detached family house...set within superb gardens of approximately three-quarters of an acre”.

The gardens were actually only 0.4 acres. The estate agents had relied on the vendors of the property for details of the house rather than taking their own measurements.

Their description in the brochure included the terms ‘approximately’ and ‘(sts)’. The ‘sts’ stood for the standard industry term ‘subject to survey’ although this wasn’t defined in the brochure.

There was also a disclaimer at the bottom of the page which said: "these particulars are believed to be correct, however their accuracy cannot be guaranteed and they do not form part of any contract."

The district judge found that while the description was misleading, the use of the terms ‘approximately’ and ‘(sts)’ along with the disclaimer were sufficient to act as a valid disclaimer.

However, the decision was overturned in the High Court, which ruled that it is was not reasonable to state that 0.4 acres was ‘approximately’ 0.75 acres.

It said that the estate agent had made a positive statement about the size of the property and the terms they used as disclaimers weren’t strong enough to contradict or neutralise that statement.

The three estate agents now face trial in a prosecution brought by the Trading Standards Service.

Please contact Eugene Pritchard if you would like more information on issues raised in this article.