Law Society: Climate risks must be highlighted to homebuyers

Posted on Friday, April 21, 2023

Homebuyers should be warned about climate-related risks of a purchase, new Law Society guidance suggests.

The legal membership body has issued guidance on how climate change physical risks and climate legal risks may be relevant to client advice, including how conveyancers advise buyers.

The document highlights that the Solicitors Regulation Authority is supportive of the guidance but the report does not reflect the regulatory view.

Where climate change physical risks arise, the Law Society said, they may be broadly relevant to the legal advice given to clients.

The guidance said extreme weather events may impact the built and natural environment, for example infrastructure, transport, the built environment and agriculture. 

It said: “These may have a significant impact on commercial and corporate transactions affecting asset resilience, value and insurability and generating climate legal risks.”

In one example, the guidance suggests more severe and more frequent extreme weather events such as storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves will impact on commercial and residential buildings, transport infrastructure and business operations.

The Law Society said this could impact conveyancing transactions. 

It said: “Is a climate search needed? Address the impact of climate events on the property within your advice, for instance, if the property is on a flood plain address increasing flood risk incidence, cost and availability of insurance and how this affects the decision to buy and the price.”

The Law Society also adds that solicitors should not advise on climate change physical risks where it is outside their knowledge or qualification, adding “Consideration should be given to whether technical or scientific expertise may be needed in addition to legal advice.”

It comes after Stephen Tromans QC, the leading practitioner in environmental law in the UK, last year issued a controversial legal opinion that said solicitors and licenced conveyancers owe a duty to clients to provide warning and advice on risks that may adversely affect a property being purchased.

Commenting on the Law Society guidance, James Sherwood-Rogers, chairman of the Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO), said: “The new Law Society Guidance helps to clarify the duty of conveyancers following the opinion on the matter issued by Stephen Tromans QC which caused some controversy within the profession.

“Perhaps the key sentence in the guidance is that solicitors ‘may have to look beyond the narrow scope of instruction by a client to consider whether and to what extent climate legal risks are relevant.’

“As the key distribution mechanism for climate change reports, CoPSO members have a key role to play in presenting solicitors with important information to discharge this responsibility.

“All CoPSO members are required to be subscribers to the Search Code which is independently regulated by the Property Codes Compliance Board.

"The protection that the Search Code provides homebuyers and the lawyers acting for them, as well as mortgage lenders, is vitally important in providing reassurance for all parties when discharging the responsibilities that the guidance outlines.”

Via @EstateAgentToday