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The tragic secret that left me freezing without heating in my new flat

<span>The executor who completed the property information put ‘sold as seen, rely on survey inspection’.</span><span>Photograph: Yee Xin Tan/Alamy</span>
The executor who completed the property information put ‘sold as seen, rely on survey inspection’.Photograph: Yee Xin Tan/Alamy

I am living without heating or hot water because the previous owner of my flat died and his body laid undiscovered for six months. Therefore disconnection notices were not responded to.

Last year, the block was fitted with new gas pipes and meters, and each flat was issued with a notice requiring access. After the former resident was discovered, the solicitor, who is executor of the deceased’s estate, failed to redirect mail, so no one responded to the escalating requests, and the gas pipe ends outside my front door.

The supply was cut off after my offer to buy had been accepted. I only discovered this when I moved in three weeks ago to a freezing property and a pile of mail addressed to the previous owner.

I’m 66, with emphysema and cancer. The sales particulars had specified gas central heating, but on the property questionnaire the executor had failed to tick “yes” or “no” to the question about whether there was a gas supply.

So, as a result of a neglected old man lying dead, unnoticed, for six months, I have no gas.

NW, Hastings

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This is an agonising story on many levels: the shocking isolation of the elderly man whose death passed unremarked by neighbours, and whose affairs are the responsibility of a solicitor. And your own ordeal with poor health and no heat.

Luckily, the contractor which had refitted the gas pipes was responsive and your flat was eventually connected last week without my involvement, and at no cost to you.

I was interested, however, in who was responsible for checking that basic infrastructure was in place, and in the implications for other property purchasers.

I notice that the executor who completed the property information form stated “sold as seen, rely on survey inspection” in answer to the question about whether the central heating was in good working order.

While the boxes confirming electricity, mains water and sewerage were ticked, the gas box was left empty, despite the sales brochure specifying gas central heating. You did not have a survey, and your conveyancing solicitor did not pick up on the non-committal answer, which should have raised red flags.

As for the estate agent, they are not legally required to test utilities, and although they are obliged to issue a property information questionnaire to comply with consumer protection regulations, they rely on information provided by the seller.

I would always advise purchasers to have a survey in case of hidden horrors, although not all surveyors test central heating. If a questionnaire suggests problems, there is the option of a specialist heating or boiler survey. It’s also a good idea to flag up any anomalies on the questionnaire with your solicitor.

Ultimately, a buyer can sue a seller if there is a material difference between the value and description of the property, and the reality.

They can also sue the conveyancing solicitor if they have evidence that they missed a significant issue through negligence, although legal action is expensive and time-consuming, and may outweigh the cost of rectifying the problem.

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