One of the most difficult decisions a licensee can face is whether or not to disclose a sensitive issue that doesn’t relate to the physical state of the property. Suicide and violent crime are examples of sensitive issues.
Disclosing depends on the facts of each case
The Tribunal rejected the suggestion that agents should err on the side of caution and disclose. Whether it needs to be disclosed will depend on the facts of the case:
The reading in of such a rule is not appropriate or justifiable. An evaluation of what “should by…fairness” be provided to a client must be undertaken in the particular circumstances of each individual case. There is no presumption either way...
I accept this matter on which reasonable people can have different views. While some may be affected by it, others may be so to a lesser extent, or indeed, not at all.
Property has been occupied since the event took place
It was acknowledged that the issue was a finely balanced one on which people can have different views:
This is a very finely balanced decision. In favour of the appellant are the facts that the suicide took place in the garage over 12 months before the sale, and the property had been occupied during that 12-month period. Furthermore, there was no industry standard or guidance available to assist in the decision as to whether the suicide required disclosure.
As against that, one estate agency had decided that disclosure was required, although that is not determinative. More telling is the fact that the agency was unable to effect a sale. However, there could have been other reasons for that. The reaction of the second respondents and their purchasers provides evidence only after the event.
Because the issue was so finely balanced, it was concluded that it would be inappropriate to find a breach of the Code of Conduct rule 6.4:
Because the decision is so finely balanced and because there was no industry standard or guidance available, I conclude that it is inappropriate to find the appellant in breach of the rule.
What this means for you
The decision is only meant as general guidance rather than to provide hard rules. There needs to be the consideration for confidentiality and fairness to the vendor:
But suicide, although sadly relatively common, carries with it feelings of unease and is generally regarded with some disquiet amongst most cultures.
[A] particularly vicious crime which has considerable notoriety should... be disclosed if only because it would not be fair for a purchase for a purchase from outside the locality to be ignorant of such an event in contrast to those with local knowledge.
... the fact a natural death has occurred in a house would not require disclosure.
We recommend you seek advice about the effect of the Tribunal’s decision if this is a significant matter for you.