I have just completed the purchase of a property. Once I was given the keys I found that the burglar alarm was still set, and I could not get into the house. I have not been given details of the burglar alarm system - is the seller now in breach of the contract?

The property should have been left with 'vacant posession'. To quote one case, vacant possession exists when "the purchaser is able to assume and enjoy immediate and exclusive possession, occupation and control" of the property. It must also be empty of furniture etc, although the extent of this is not clear. If the items left at the property substantially interfere with the enjoyment of the property, then vacant possession has not been given.

There have been two major case law decisions around leaving a property alarmed. The first, Riverside Park, held that the deactivation of the alarm was a mistake and there was no breach of vacant possession. However in the case of South Essex College the decision given was that leaving an alarm system activated was indeed a breach of the seller's obligation to grant vacant possession.

As a rule with an alarm, although leaving it deactivated can be risky, the obligation to give vacant possession is breached if you have not given the purchaser the means to deactivate the alarm. I suggest you liaise with both the agent and your solicitor to find out how to deactivate the alarm as soon as possible. Bear in mind that the 'live' alarm may be just an oversight.

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