Lock that door – when inspecting property
It is almost always a ‘good thing’ for a property to be inspected by surveyors, lawyers and others on behalf of clients who are buying it. This can save time in that the inspection reveals problems with the property, or alternatively reveals that issues that look important on paper are actually not important at all. While often a client foregoes an inspection on grounds of cost, professionals may now choose not to inspect property in case they are sued for leaving a door open.
The Court of Appeal (in Rushbond plc v The JS Design Partnership) decided exactly this. In the case, an architect acting for a possible buyer of a cinema inspected the site with the owner’s permission. He disabled the alarm systems and but did not lock the door behind him. When he left, he locked the door and reset the alarm.
During the inspection vandals got in and caused a fire. The owners said it was the architect’s fault and sued for £6.5 million.
The Court of Appeal has said there is a case to answer because the architect ‘created the danger’ by not adequately securing the property even though he was actually in the cinema when the vandals got in.
There is a long way to go since the High Court must now decide if the architects are actually liable for the £6.5 million, but this reminds those of us who visit land to lock doors and shut gates behind us.