Belfast Telegraph

Belfast city apartment buyers tried to escape contract after property market crash, High Court rules

Apartment buyers issued builders with a five-day deadline for completing work in a bid to escape a contract after the property market crashed, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mr Justice Deeney held that clients of Fernhill Properties were not ready, willing and able to finalise purchases at a Belfast city centre development in the time set.

His verdict is expected to result in the firm either seeking specific performance or damages from a number of purchasers.

Fernhill brought a case against one of them, Robert Scullion, over an apartment block it was building at College Court Central.

In May 2007, just before Northern Ireland's booming housing market collapsed, Mr Scullion paid a 10% deposit for a two-bedroom flat priced at £203,000.

Although building work was to be completed by November 2008, it was delayed by up to eight months.

During that period, in April 2009, Mr Scullion's solicitor served Fernill with five days notice to complete.

But by then two attempts had already been made to rescind the contract based on the continuing delay.

According to Mr Justice Deeny the decision to then issue the notice to complete was a "volte face" by a purchaser now claiming to be in a position to finalise the deal.

He pointed out that Mr Scullion and his wife had also agreed to buy another apartment in the same block and failed to complete on that without a good explanation.

Based on the evidence and documents in the case, the judge concluded that the defendant was not, "ready, willing and able to complete" by the April deadline.

"The inference I draw is that with the fall in property prices he and a number of other purchasers who were related to him repented of their contracts and wished to escape from them," he said.

"One has sympathy with them but they had entered into binding legal contracts with the plaintiff which is entitled to have the contracts enforced."

Finding for Fernhill, he confirmed: "I incline to the view that the five working days allowed by the defendant's solicitor here for completion was insufficient."

A future hearing will determine whether damages or specific performance of the contracts is ordered.

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