Checking Title report whose responsibility is it?

Property nightmare raises worries over conveyancing standards – The Times

Several homeowners in Cumbria are facing a legal quagmire after it emerged that they are likely to be living in flats that they have not technically bought.

Chris Meyer, a Carlisle businessman, unearthed the problem when he decided to move from his three-bedroom flat to a bigger house.

His tale of woe has highlighted what lawyers describe as increasing problems over residential conveyancing matters in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Mr Meyer was on the verge of completing the deal for what he described as his dream home after finally selling his flat, which had been on the market for three years. That was until the solicitor for the prospective buyer of his flat contacted him to say that due to an administrative gaffe, he and several of his neighbours had unwittingly been living in the wrong flats.

In Mr Meyer’s case, the lawyer informed him that technically his flat was owned by his next-door neighbour. As many as 10 of the 15 flats in the building are understood to be affected, with lawyers saying that none of the properties can be sold without written agreement of all the parties involved.

Burnetts, the Carlisle law firm that acted for Mr Meyer when he bought the flat, strongly denied that it acted negligently and said it was its client’s responsibility to check the relevant documents. Nick Gutteridge, the firm’s managing partner, said: “Responsibility for checking the title report was with Mr Meyer. Although this is not a situation of our making, we have gone above and beyond in helping Mr Meyer to rectify the issue, including liaising with other property owners and their lenders.”

The details of the Carlisle conundrum will have to be chewed over by the lawyers involved, but on a separate note, Rob Hailstone, an independent solicitor specialising in property, pointed out that incidents of residential conveyancing negligence are on the rise owing to the fact that “there just aren’t as many good property lawyers as there used to be”.

He blamed the 2008 financial crisis and the downturn in the property market for the dearth of experts. “Many firms made conveyancers redundant and have not rebuilt those practices since,” he said.

Another problem is that lawyers now act remotely. “Conveyancing specialists used to visit properties before the deal was closed to check that the records were accurate,” Mr Hailstone said. “Most don’t do that any more.”

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