Thinking of Buying or Selling Property in Jamaica?

"Lawyers Rescue Lillian from Property Sale Nightmare"

When Lillian Duggan decided to sell her Jamaican home after 30 years of living in Canada, she had no idea that 15 years of legal wrangling lay ahead of her.

Lillian’s mother had left the three-bedroom house in the country to her in her will, and she had always anticipated moving back and living there in her retirement.

But after 30 years in Ottawa, it became clear to her that she was settled and wouldn’t want to go back. So in 1999, she got in touch with Joseph Johnson, an old school friend who had become a lawyer in Jamaica.

“I sent him all the papers he asked for and he said he would do everything; get a realtor, find the purchasers. He would handle it all, I needn’t worry.“

“He said it would all be done in a few months. It felt a great relief to be using somebody I knew and felt I could trust. I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

A young couple agreed to buy the house and the paperwork was signed in May 2000, six months or so after starting the process. Joseph reported to Lillian that a deposit had been paid, which was good news, but from that moment onwards, it was impossible to get a proper response from him.

“My patience gradually turned to frustration and finally I was really mad with him! The distance means you can’t just pop in to his office, and you feel utterly helpless.”

What followed was a whole series of letters, phone calls, emails and faxes as Lillian became increasingly desperate to receive the proceeds of her property sale.

Perhaps the most incredible thing is that Joseph Johnson wasn’t just ignoring Lillian, but as she later found out, he was also the lawyer for the purchasers and was ignoring them too. They had contacted Lillian directly because they were just as exasperated at she was.

Eventually Lillian raised a complaint with the General Legal Council, the lawyers’ disciplinary body in Jamaica, who suggested she find a lawyer to represent her in her complaint against Johnson.

Joseph Johnson appeared only once out of the four hearings. For the others he either didn’t appear at all or he sent someone in his place. The disciplinary panel found him grossly negligent, but that didn’t help Lillian. It was a complete nightmare for her, when all she wanted was to sell her home in Jamaica.

He was eventually struck off and prevented from ever practicing again, but the wrangling was not over. Commissions had been paid to realtors from the deposit money, the purchasers had taken up residence and an overlooked defect with the property boundary prevented the purchasers from obtaining a mortgage and closing the sale.

“And then much worse, I found out that totally against my instructions, he had let the purchasers into my house! To stop people from vandalizing the property he had said. They had been living there since 2000, and they were not paying me rent.”

It took another 9 years to get Lillian’s money from her house sale. The disgraced lawyer, Johnson, had failed to properly protect Lillian via contract and a long legal process was necessary to bring the transaction to a close.

By that time, she had lost nearly CDN$60,000 due to devaluation, fees and expenses, not to mention lost interest from other possible investment opportunities she had to forego.

“I personally would not wish this experience on my enemy and I cannot thank the Nicholson Phillips team enough for sticking with me through all of this.”

Property transactions in Jamaica tend to take just a little longer than they do in Canada or the UK. However, you should never take 15 years to complete a transaction!