Victory for estate agents in bungalow test case

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Estate agents won a test case victory in the High Court yesterday after insisting they could not always be held responsible for property advertisements that include false claims.

The case followed the discovery that a bungalow put on the market in Enfield, north London, in 1994, as part of the pounds 130,000 sale of a four- bedroom house, had no planning permission and faced demolition.

It is the first case to reach the High Court since legislation was introduced three years ago to curb the flowery language and grandiose claims of property adverts that often resulted in disappointment for buyers.

But Lord Justice Kennedy said yesterday that estate agents could not be expected to be responsible for making extra checks on details given to them by owners, unless there were obvious grounds for suspicion.

When Graham Coton, a senior agent at Castle Estate Agents in Enfield, was told that the bungalow - complete with tiled roof and a porch - was legal, he accepted the owner's word. A competing agency was later alerted to the truth.

Lord Kennedy's judgement was welcomed yesterday. Peter Gleeson, chairman of Castle, said: "If this bungalow had looked like a shed, we would have been right to look at it. But it didn't, and it's not the job of an estate agent to check every planning permission situation."

Since the Properties Misdescriptions Act of 1993, advertising has been much more subdued. There have still been 62 cases, with 13 acquittals, in the magistrates courts.

David Perkins, a consultant on the act, said it was effective in curbing old style hyperbole. "Most of the problems now are simply based on mistakes. If you had to check planning permission on every property, you wouldn't know where to stop."