Home Buyers Beware... of Ghosts?

Thinking about buying a home? Have you completed all the necessary checks?

  • House Inspection… CHECK
  • Termite inspection…CHECK
  • Ghostbusters… wait, what?

'Tis the season of ghostly and gory movies and TV shows. Whenever I see a movie or TV show depict hauntings or grisly murders in a house, I often wonder… “if I was buying that house, would the seller have to tell me about the lingering spirits? Could I be stuck with a real life Haunted House?”

One of the most infamous haunted-house cases in the United States is Stambovsky v. Ackley, where the New York appellate court narrowed the common-law concept of caveat emptor or “buyer beware” and held that the house was haunted as a matter of law.[1] In this case, the seller repeatedly told the media, including Reader’s Digest and the New York Times, that her home was haunted. The seller also gave tours of her ghost-ridden home. When it came time to sell her house, the seller suddenly became shy about her invisible roommates; and the buyer was understandably upset when he learned from a neighbor that his dream house was indeed haunted. The court ruled that even “the most meticulous inspection and search would not reveal the presence of poltergeists at the premises or unearth the property’s ghoulish reputation in the community,” and thus the seller could not legally deny the existence of the house’s phantasmal reputation.[2]

Like New York, several other states require sellers to disclose psychologically-impacted property - more commonly known as stigmatized property. Stigmatized property is property which, due to an event, renders the house emotionally less-desirable. These events can include death of an occupant, murder, suicide, serious illness such as AIDS, and … belief that the house is haunted.

Here in North Carolina, there is no such duty imposed on sellers or their agents to disclose a stigmatized property to prospective buyers. North Carolina law requires owners of residential real estate to furnish a disclosure statement in real property transactions.[3] A Seller must fill out a Residential Disclosure Statement identifying all issues with their property for which disclosure is required under North Carolina law. Mostly, those are limited to things that could affect the buyer’s health and safety, and ghosts are not included within this worldly, legal realm. So before you buy a home, you might want to contact that little old lady from Poltergeist, because your seller is probably not going to tell you if Casper the Friendly Ghost is still floating around.

 

[1] 169 A.D.2d 254 (N.Y. App. 1991).

[2] Id. at 256, 259.

[3] N.C.G.S. § 47E-1.