By: Richard D. Vetstein, Esq.
“Haunted” properties fall within the category of stigmatized properties.
Well, it’s October already and Halloween decorations are already starting to surface. Haunted houses are fun to visit but most people wouldn’t want to live in one, right? So that raises a “spooky” legal question. Do real estate brokers or sellers have a legal duty to inform purchasers if houses are truly haunted — i.e, have been the site of a murder, suicide or paranormal activity?
“Haunted” properties fall within the category of stigmatized properties, or real estate that is not defective in any physical manner, but due to psychological or emotional factors may have a reduced
Disclosing that a house has a haunted history may be the most prudent course of action.
value. Among the situations covered under the title of stigmatized is a property that was the site of a murder, suicide, alleged haunting, or other parapsychological phenomenon. About half of U.S. states have laws that deal with stigmatized properties, but most don’t require sellers to disclose if they believe they have a ghost. For example, under Massachusetts law, real estate brokers and sellers are under no legal obligation to disclose that a property was the site of a felony, suicide or homicide, or has been the site of an alleged “parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon.”
Despite any law not requiring disclosure however, disclosing that a house has a haunted history may be the most prudent course of action. It’s surely something many buyers would like to know beforehand. If a seller doesn’t disclose, and the buyers find out about the property’s history prior to the closing, there’s a chance they would try to get out of the deal. There is a well-publicized case out of New York in the 1990s where a court allowed a buyer to terminate a real estate deal due to the failure to disclose “haunted” activity.
As I always recommend in this digital era, an easy way to determine whether a house is truly “haunted” is to Google the property address and see what comes up. If there was a murder or suicide, it should reveal itself. Also, talk to the neighbors. They will surely know the property’s history. If all else fails, of course you can always hire Ghostbusters. Happy house “haunting”!