Before the Flood

Author:Mr Henry Goulding
Profession:Farrer & Co

Water constitutes approximately 70% of the earth's surface, approximately 75% of the human body and, for many last year, almost 100% of their homes.

Whether as a result of global warming or housing growth, flooding has become a real issue for an increasing number of people, for many of whom there would not appear to be any legal recourse. Unless one is able to establish fault (usually in the form of negligence or nuisance), an affected homeowner will have no remedy against such acts of nature.

The Environment Agency keeps a record of flood risk areas which can easily be accessed via its website www.environment-agency. Despite this, however, the Agency reports that in no more than 5% of property transactions is it consulted to see if the property being purchased lies within such an area. Doubtless, one reason for this is that the Agency sets a very low threshold in ascertaining whether or not an area is at risk. The flood plains recorded on the website are the 1 in 100-year fluvial and 1 in 200-year tidal flood plains and, furthermore, do not take into account any flood defence measures in situ. Search against some of the most expensive real estate in Britain, therefore, and you will see that large parts of central London lie within a flood risk area. Councils (which are under considerable pressure to meet housing quotas) and developers (who are keen for obvious reasons) have excused their decisions to build in such areas on this very fact and will instead simply investigate any recent flooding history at each particular site.

All this, however, is of little comfort to the homeowner whose only means of access to his home is by canoe. A buyer will have no comeback against his seller unless the seller has been guilty of misrepresentation and has actively denied any knowledge of flooding at the property when such has in fact occurred. Even if this situation exists, the buyer then faces an uphill battle proving that he has relied on the seller's misrepresentation and extracting the necessary compensation from the seller.

A well-advised buyer should always ask of his seller whether there has been any flooding at the property but should also make the necessary enquiries of the Environment Agency, even if only typing the postcode into the Agency's website. If such a search reveals that the property lies within a flood risk area, then further enquiries can be made and reassurances obtained (the Thames Barrier, if you are buying in SW1). If...

To continue reading