“Courts see only the tip of the iceberg of disputes related to housing transactions between private individuals, as most cases get settled outside court rooms,” says Professor of Civil Law Mia Hoffrén of the University of Eastern Finland. She has conducted extensive research into the liabilities of the parties involved in a housing transaction.
Appointed as Professor of Civil Law and especially Contract Law at the University of Eastern Finland as from this August, Hoffrén’s research focuses on, e.g., how third parties, such as real estate agents, building inspectors and housing company managers, affect the risks of the parties to a housing transaction. Previous owners of the property may also continue to have liabilities that affect the parties to a housing transaction.
“For example, the liability of a real estate agent is regulated by law, but people often have the wrong idea about it. A real estate agency is responsible for ensuring that the real estate brokerage is carried out properly, but it is not liable for any possible defects in the apartment or house being sold.”
There are also ambiguities about the liability of a building inspector because in most cases, the building inspector will only conclude a contract with the seller and carry out the inspection before the apartment or house is sold. Under contract law, it is often a question of whether the buyer can claim damages if the inspection has been carried out negligently.
“This is not enacted in legislation, and so far, there are only a few rulings from the Courts of Appeal.”
In her research, Hoffrén has proposed that a building inspector should be liable to the buyer for damages caused by a defect in the inspection in accordance with the rules of contract law.
“I do not, however, see this entering into legislation very quickly. In any case, it would be good to get legal praxis from the Supreme Court to clarify the matter.”
A contract is more than a two-way deal
As a scholar of contract law, Hoffrén is particularly interested in the effects of contracts on third parties. The basic premise of contract law is that the contracting parties agree on their respective rights and obligations. Often however, a contractual relation also affects third parties. In a housing transaction, for instance, a contract between the seller and the building inspector affects the buyer as well.
“The buyer will be interested in the contractual relation when they want to know whether they can claim damages from the building inspector if the inspector has done a poor job. It is said that a contract is a two-way deal, but that’s not really the case. A contract can have a great deal of impact on other parties as well.”
The Supreme Court’s interpretation of online banking credential holders’ liability is strict
In recent years, Hoffrén has investigated disputes related to the use of online banking credentials, and to the liability of the credential holder. In the world of traditional contracts, a person purchasing items or concluding credit contracts under stolen or false identification will be held solely liable for the deed.
However, the line becomes watery when stolen banking credentials are used to purchase items online. The rightful holder of the credentials may be held liable for their use if the owner has been negligent with their credentials. From the viewpoint of contract law, this warrants an assessment of whether the rightful credential holder becomes a party to the contract concluded using their stolen credentials. If this is the case, the credential holder would be liable for the entire purchase, and not just for the damages suffered by the seller.
“Views presented in legal literature have suggested that the liability of the credential holder would be limited to damages. Some years ago, however, the Supreme Court issued a ruling suggesting that the liability of the credential holder would be similar to that of a contracting party. From the viewpoint of the credential holder, this is a rather strict interpretation.”
Serving on the Consumer Disputes Board has given perspective to consumer disputes
Alongside her research, Hoffrén has served on the Consumer Disputes Board in 2021–2022, as Chair of Section IV b and as Deputy Chair of Section IV a. These sections deal, for example, with disputes relating to the sale and purchase of cars. The Consumer Disputes Board is a dispute resolution body that gives recommendations on how to settle disputes between mainly consumers and businesses.
“In a body such as the Consumer Disputes Board, it is possible to make one’s personal expertise available to society. At the same time, it is a way to stay on top of what is happening in the field and also to see the big picture around disputes instead of just the tip of the iceberg, i.e., what kind of things lead to disputes and problems.”
- Professor of Civil Law, especially Contract Law, University of Eastern Finland, 1 August 2022–
- Title of Docent in Civil Law, especially Property Law, University of Eastern Finland, 2016
- Title of Docent in Property Law, University of Turku, 2013
- Doctor of Laws, University of Turku, 200
- Professor of Civil Law (fixed-term), University of Eastern Finland, 2012–2014, 2020–2022.
- Referendary Counsellor, Supreme Court, 2015–2020
- University Lecturer in Civil Law, University of Turku, 2014–2015
- Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Turku, 2009–2014
Print-quality photos for use by the media are available for download at:
For further information, please contact:
Professor Mia Hoffrén, tel. +358 50 410 3368, mia.hoffren(at)uef.fi