Where Does The Law Stand On Selling Haunted Houses?

The Haunting 1963-thumb-572xauto-251169Someone’s assertion that one of the bedrooms in my apartment is haunted got me thinking about this. Do landlords and house sellers have an obligation to disclose paranormal activity and the presence of spirits? Mental Floss writes:

It all depends on the where the house is and the way the laws are worded there.

Some states require sellers to disclose “emotional defects” that could impact and stigmatize a property. This includes traumatic events like murders and suicides, reported paranormal activity and even proximity to homeless shelters.

In Virginia, emotional defects like murders and ghost sightings only have to be disclosed if they physically affect the property (Blood running from the walls? Gotta tell the buyer). In California, sellers do have to disclose emotional defects, but only in a very limited way. The state Civil Code requires that a death on the property only needs to be disclosed if it occurred less than three years prior to the sale and older incidents need to be addressed only if the buyer specifically asks.

There’s an infamous court case often cited when it comes to disclosure law, Stambovsky v. Ackley, that revolves around a haunted house.

Helen Ackley owned a big old Victorian home in Nyack, New York. The town sits about 30 miles north of New York City on the west bank of the Hudson River, in an area known for many haunted places, including the legendary Sleepy Hollow. Mrs. Ackley was well aware that her house was supposedly haunted. In fact, she claims to have seen several ghosts herself, including one that gave her approval for a new paint color in the living room and several dressed in colonial-era clothing. When she decided to put the house up for sale and retire to Florida, though, Mrs. Ackley suddenly got very shy about the ghosts.

Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky wanted to buy the house and agreed to Ackley’s asking price of $650,000. It wasn’t until after the couple gave Ackley a $32,500 down payment that they were talking to a local about their purchase and were asked, “Oh, you’re buying the haunted house?”

The Stambovskys were not exactly thrilled to learn about the alleged haunting of their new home and attempted to back out of the sale. Ackley would neither admit any wrongdoing nor cancel the sale and return the deposit, so the Stambovskys took her to court. The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court ruled in their favor in a 3-2 decision.

The court found that, regardless of whether or not ghosts are real and the house was truly haunted, the fact that the house had been widely reported as haunted affected its value. Ackley “had deliberately fostered the belief that her home was possessed by ghosts” in the past and was therefore at fault for not disclosing this attribute of the house to the buyers, who, not being locals, could not readily learn about the defect on their own.

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