The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
See this post by Kyle White (Abnormal Use), and, for more Halloween law action, check out Daniel B. Moar, "Case law from the crypt: The law of Halloween." An excerpt:
One reported case we found comes from New York. In that proceeding, the "Plaintiff, to his horror, discovered that the house he had recently contracted to purchase was widely reputed to be possessed by poltergeists, reportedly seen by defendant seller and members of her family on numerous occasions over the last nine years." Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.2d 254, 255-56 (N.Y.A.D. 1991). In Stambovsky, the court noted the traditional rule that "with respect to real estate . . . the doctrine of caveat emptore . . . imposes no duty upon the vendor to disclose any information concerning the premises." However, the Defendant in Stambovsky "reported [the] presence [of poltergeists] in both a national publication (Readers' Digest) and the local press (in 1977 and 1982, respectively)" and the home was included on a walking ghost tour in the community. In other words, the seller did disclose the presence of the poltergeists, but the disclosure was made to everyone except the buyer to whom she sold the home. As a result, the court found that the "defendant is estopped to deny [the poltergeists'] existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted." The Court ultimately concluded that "[a]pplication of the remedy of rescission, within the bounds of the narrow exception to the doctrine of caveat emptor set forth herein, is entirely appropriate to relieve the unwitting purchaser from the consequences of a most unnatural bargain."
Some states maintain statutes which generally dictate one's duty to disclose murders or other ghastly crimes committed in a home. Florida's statute provides that "[t]he fact that a property was, or was at any time suspected to have been, the site of a homicide, suicide, or death is not a material fact that must be disclosed in a real estate transaction." Fla. Stat. Ann. § 689.25(b). Massachusetts law provides that a buyer has no duty to disclose that a property has been "psychologically impacted," meaning that there is no duty to disclose "that the real property was the site of a felony, suicide or homicide" or "that the real property has been the site of an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon," among other things. Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 93, § 114 (b), (c). California law only requires disclosure of an "occupant's death upon the real property or the manner of death" if the death occurred in the three years prior to the sale, unless the buyer specifically asks. Cal. Civ. Code § 1710.2 ("Nothing in this section shall be construed to immunize an owner or his or her agent from making an intentional misrepresentation in response to a direct inquiry from a transferee or a prospective transferee of real property, concerning deaths on the real property."). And sorry, kids, you can't vandalize a home just because you believe it to be haunted. . . . Hayward v. Carraway, 180 So. 2d 758 (La. Ct. App. 1965).