Disclosure of a suicide: the Superior Court confirms the usefulness of the declarations by the seller
On November 21, 2013, the Superior Court determined, in Fortin c. Mercier(1) judgment, that the seller of an immovable had the obligation to inform buyers that a violent death had occurred therein.
The facts of the case are summarized as follows: in February 2011, the defendant Mercier (seller) acquired an immovable from an estate. After renovating it completely, he put it up for resale. He signed a brokerage contract with a real estate broker.
When the broker learnt that a double suicide occurred in the immovable, he informed the seller of his ethical duty to disclose this information to buyers using the Declarations by the seller of the immovable form. Following the seller’s refusal to disclose, the parties terminated the brokerage contract.
Then the seller signed a brokerage contract with a second broker. According to the information provided by the seller, the following statement was indicated in the Declarations by the seller of the immovable form: “the owners committed suicide in the garage”. The buyers interested in the immovable were all shocked when they were informed of this tragic event. Upon the expiry of the brokerage contract and as the immovable was still not sold, the seller decided to advertise it on the website of Duproprio company.
A couple of young buyers were interested in the immovable. At no time did the seller inform them about the violent deaths that occurred there. It was finally a neighbour who informed the couple about the drama, a few days after they had bought the immovable. Based on this information, the buyers decided not to live in the property and took legal action against the seller.
The Superior Court stated in its judgement that the seller should have informed the buyers of the double suicide since this element “is likely to influence a real estate transaction”(2) and “must be disclosed in order for the co-contractor’s consent to be free and informed”(3). Moreover, the Court concluded that the seller had little credibility regarding the scope of work he claimed to have carried out. As for the conditional promises to purchase that the seller stated he had, the Court noted that he had no proof and that the one relating to an expropriation had been abandoned before the end of the brokerage contract of the second broker.
Therefore, the Court declared the sale null and void and awarded damages to buyers.
This decision clearly shows the usefulness of the Declarations by the seller of the immovable form and the relevance of real estate brokers’ ethical obligation to disclose any information that may influence a transaction. The Court pointed out that the question in the form about the existence of a suicide or a violent death has become mandatory in the real estate field. “This is based on human nature and experience of these tradespeople”.
The judgment also highlights the quality of work accomplished by real estate brokers in this case and illustrates the benefits of dealing with a real estate broker.
For more information, please read the following article: Broker’s duty to disclose: An added protection.
(1) 2013 CanLII 5890 (QC CS)
(2) Id., par. 61
(3) Id., par. 65