Dilemmas: Keep quiet about the neighbour from hell - let the buyer beware

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Clara and her husband have wanted to move from their flat since they moved in. The freeholder throws water over them if they go into their garden, they can't get an extension built because she blocks it due to a badly-written lease. Now a lovely pregnant couple want to buy, doing their own conveyancing. Should Clara warn them?

THERE was a card game I always used to like playing called Old Maid. You took out all the Queens except the Queen of Spades, dealt the cards and, top side up and fanned out, you offered your hand to the person on your left who had to take one. The aim was to get rid of the Queen of Spades. It was extremely entertaining to see how people presented it - some nonchalantly hidden behind another card, some double-bluffing and sticking it out obviously, some tucking it behind. As soon as you got a double you could get rid of two of your cards but someone was always left with the one Queen - and became Old Maid.

Clara's problem reminds me of this game. Except unlike the players of the card game she's tempted to draw attention to the Queen of Spades, not the point at all.

Why should she say anything? If this couple are so broke or cheese-paring to do their own conveyancing, they have to live with the consequences. They will learn, as we all learn, the hard way; that in cases like these it is usually better to leave such things to the professionals. How does she know, anyway, that, rather than her landlady/freeholder being the neighbour from hell, they themselves aren't the neighbours from hell, and that far from being the delightful flat-owners they think they are they may be driving the poor woman mad with their peculiar behaviour. Maybe the woman would behave completely differently if there were a young baby on the scene. Unlikely, I know, but quite possible.

We have all had to learn lessons in our youth and very few people help us out. We've all bought scent from a tout in Oxford Street and found it was just water; we've all bought soap and dusters at the door from people selling for religious organisations and found the soap turns to a kind of gritty stone and the dusters fray at the hems; I once even bought a dead tortoise from a market pet-shop that they persuaded me was just "asleep". We've all had to learn the hard lesson that when something's cheap we ought to be on our guard.

I was in a similar position recently when I had to sell a car which had an intermittent fault. It used to cut out suddenly - whether going at 20mph or 60mph on a motorway. It was most unnerving and it was only because I knew the car well that I prevented several accidents. No garages could find the fault, even though they borrowed it for weeks. Only one garage even admitted it existed. Eventually I took it to a dealer. At the back of my mind I kept thinking of the parent who might buy the car for her son, who'd only just passed his test, and kill himself on the M4. I was in a cleft stick. Finally I told the dealer the problem and made him promise on his mother's grave that he would warn potential buyers of the problem or make sure his garage sorted the problem out. He promised. I have no doubt he never kept his promise and never meant to. I took the money and felt dreadful.

Clara and her husband could say to the couple that the landlady had been known to be a little difficult sometimes. That might salve their guilty consciences. But apart from that, they should remember the old Latin phrase Caveat Emptor - Let the buyer beware.

what readers say

When selling anything that is shoddy, inferior or second-rate your only hope is that a "mug punter" will show an interest. A flat with a restrictive lease and a loony neighbour in tow could only be sold to a mug. Unless your prospective buyer asks pertinent and direct questions about the lease, the neighbour or planning restrictions I would not raise these matters at all. If they do ask these frankly obvious questions then more fool them.

Mr Maynard Chitty,

Liverpool

Grit your teeth, bite the bullet, put a pillow in your mouth to muffle the screams of your raging conscience and exchange contracts. Did the previous owner warn you about your psychotic neighbour? Would you have moved in if they had? Thought not.

Jamie Same,

Balham

The fact that the prospective buyers are "doing their own conveyancing" shows what foolish innocents they are. Without the protection of legal advice on leasehold intricities from a good conveyancing solicitor, they will be walking into a minefield. Such a solicitor would raise all the necessary inquiries concerning landlord/neighbour harassment, and advise on the unsatisfactory terms of the lease, all of which would probably result in bringing the prospective buyers to their senses and the sale going off.

Arthur Warham, Blackpool

next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, This is a very tricky problem but it concerns me. I can't give you my name as you will understand.

When I was about 14 my brother came into my room occasionally and after a while we had sex. I was too young to enjoy it very much but I didn't mind it, and when he got a girlfriend after about a year he stopped. I look back on my childhood and find it filled with things that people would now call abuse. A flasher at eight. A groping uncle who'd tickle me in parts I didn't like being tickled.

And yet I don't seem to have suffered at all. I have a wonderful marriage, a happy sex-life, and three wonderful children. I'm worried, in other words, that I'm not worried. Do you think all this will suddenly catch up with me?

-Anon

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora.

Send comments and suggestions to Virginia Ironside at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182), by Tuesday morning. If you have a dilemma of your own, please let me know.

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