Understanding the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991
What is the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991?
The Property Misdescriptions Act was created to protect homebuyers from false advertising.
It prohibits Estate Agents from misleading homebuyers, by making false or inaccurate statements about the specifics of a selling property. This applies whether that statement is made verbally or in writing, and applies to physical descriptions of the property, as well as title details, lease details, and other legal details. Contravening this act is seen as a criminal offense, and an Estate Agent found guilty is liable to pay a fine.
What constitutes a Misdescription?
Even if the statement is not intentionally or explicitly false, it may be considered misleading. A statement is considered misleading on the basis of what a reasonable layperson may be expected to infer from it.
Over-emphasising enhancements e.g. describing alterations to a part of the home, in a way that implies they were done to the home as a whole. ? Omitting important information. ? Inaccurate location information. Other forms of inaccurate information i.e. proximity to amenities must be stated realistically and specifically.
Many Agents make use of disclaimer clauses to avoid contravening the act, especially where the agent may not have adequate information. A disclaimer implies that the buyer is responsible for verifying all information, and that the agent cannot be held responsible for incorrect information.
How does it affect Agents and Private House Sellers?
Individuals who sell their house privately are not subject to the Property Misdescriptions Act. However, if a sale is concluded and buyers discover evidence of false advertising, they may opt to sue house sellers for damages.
An Estate Agent’s Responsibilities
Estate Agents are governed by several fair business practice acts including; The Estate Agents Act 1979, Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, The Property Misdescriptions Act 1991. They are also subject to regulations outlined by the organisations and redress schemes they may be members of.
The government is currently reviewing the need for the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991, as similar regulations are outlined in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Under the Property Misdescriptions Act, the Agent is legally required to ensure that all statements made about a selling property are accurate, and not misleading. This includes descriptions of:
1. The area / location. 2. Proximity to amenities. 3. Titles, leases and deeds. 4. The property size, measurements and architectural specifics.
A buyer may not withdraw from a sale, where contracts have already been exchanged, on the basis of a property misdescription. However they may take action by reporting the Agent to the Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services: Property or Trading Standards Office.
A buyer may want to discuss the infringement with the Agent in question first, as they may have a viable explanation / defence as to why certain information was misrepresented or omitted. If you feel that you have purchased a house on the basis of blatantly, and intentionally, misleading information it is important to seek legal advice.