Northern Ireland

Titanic Quarter flat buyer 'has no money'

Titanic Quarter - Harcourt development
Image caption Some of the buyers who have booked apartments in the Titanic Quarter have claimed that they have no money

An order for a cash-strapped buyer to complete on an apartment in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast would be impossible to enforce, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for a jobless man being sued for failing to honour a purchase contract argued that their client was completely without cash.

The defence is being put forward as a test case and may determine the wider action brought by Titanic Quarter Ltd.

The company issued writs against 12 customers who failed to secure finance.

'No money'

Titanic Quarter Ltd, owned by Dublin-based Harcourt Properties, is seeking orders of "specific performance" which would compel the defendants to honour their side of the deal.

Several defendants are fighting the action by claiming they simply have no money.

The court heard one of them, Neil Rowe, is currently unemployed and has no other assets to enable him to complete on his agreed purchase.

His barrister, Richard Coghlin, said: "The element of futility and impossibility is brought about by the circumstances of the defendant and also by the impossibility, we say, of enforceability of any order for specific performance."

Michael Humphries, for Titanic Quarter Ltd, told the court it was accepted his client had met all its obligations to build the apartment.

"It seems to be an inescapable conclusion from the defence that the defendant acknowledges he would be liable in damages if the plaintiff has sustained a loss by reason of his failure to complete," he said.

"But the defendant contends that he has a defence to the claim for specific performance."

Risks

Asked by the judge, Mr Justice Deeny, why damages rather than specific performance would not be an adequate remedy, Mr Humphries argued the associated risks of the property market should not be left with "the innocent party".

He told the court: "If property continues to fall in value, and we are all in the situation where nobody really knows where property and finance markets are going to end up - particularly with budgetary uncertainties in this part of the world - damages would not be an adequate remedy."

Mr Humphries added: "It's also the case, as judgments have said, that justice is better served by ordering people to carry out contractual obligations than by replacing them with a secondary obligation to pay damages.

"The plaintiff is entitled to say 'This is a contract for the sale of land, that is the appropriate remedy and I wish to pursue that remedy, but I have an option if that remedy cannot be brought home to return and seek damages'."

After hearing both sides in the test case, Mr Justice Deeny reserved judgment.

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