In Québec, when a seller decides to sell an immovable (real) property, he or she is obligated to complete, with the help of a real estate agent, a mandatory form entitled Declarations by the Seller of the Immovable. Question 13.8 D of this form reads as follows:
To your knowledge, has there ever been a suicide or violent death in the immovable?
To what extent does such information affect the sale of an immovable? According to the Superior Court of Québec in the recent case of Fortin v. Mercier, 2013 QCCS 5890 (“Fortin”), this information could have a significant impact on the sale of a property. Indeed, the Superior Court considered the omission to disclose the fact that a suicide occurred in the immovable as an action that could lead to defect of consent and, consequently, the annulment of the sale.
Summary of the case
The facts of Fortin can be briefly summarized as follows: Mr. Mercier, the defendant, owned an immovable in which the previous owners had committed suicide. The real estate brokers hired by Mr. Mercier advised him of his obligation to disclose said information in the Declarations by the Seller of the Immovable. However, as time went on and no offer was made on the immovable, Mr. Mercier decided not to disclose the suicide to potential buyers. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Fortin and Ms. Bolduc, the plaintiffs, visited the immovable, at which time Mr. Mercier never mentioned the suicide to them. Eventually, the plaintiffs bought the house, still unaware of its dark past. During the move, the neighbour informed Ms. Bolduc that a suicide had occurred in her house. Both plaintiffs were greatly distressed by the news. They maintained that they had purchased a house to start a family and would never have purchased that particular house had they known that a violent death had taken place there.
The Superior Court judges, granting the plaintiffs’ motion, declared the nullity of the deed of sale and granted the plaintiffs moral damages. The Court concluded that the omission by a seller or an agent to disclose the occurrence of a suicide or a violent death in an immovable constitutes deceit and the buyer’s consent is therefore vitiated. The occurrence of a suicide or another violent death in an immovable is a piece of information likely to affect the immovable transaction. Without such information, potential buyers cannot make an informed decision with regard to the conclusion of a deed of sale. The Court clarifies that the omission to disclose a suicide is not a latent defect as the immovable is not defective in itself; rather, it is the buyer’s consent that is vitiated.
This decision confirms the principle that sellers have an obligation to disclose the occurrence of a suicide or violent death to potential buyers in the context of an immovable sale, at the risk of seeing their sale annulled due to defect of consent.