The Volokh Conspiracy

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'A primer on selling haunted houses and other stigmatized property'


This photo provided by Twentieth Century Fox shows, Kennedi Clements as Madison Bowen, reaching out to apparitions that have invaded her family
Kennedi Clements as Madison Bowen, reaching out to apparitions that have invaded her family's home, in a scene from the film "Poltergeist." (Twentieth Century Fox via Associated Press)

Apropos of yesterday's post on the subject of haunted house law, see Marc Ben-Ezra and Asher Perlin's article on the subject, though it's more focused on past murders in the home - or past inhabitants' having had AIDS - rather than just on hauntings. An excerpt (some paragraph breaks added):

"[S]tigmatized property" … has been defined as "property psychologically impacted by an event which occurred or was suspected to have occurred on the property, such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind." …

When can a buyer complain that the property is stigmatized and rescind a contract or state a cause of action on that basis? How would a buyer react upon discovering the house he or she had agreed to buy had been the site of a gruesome murder or suicide? What if the previous occupant suffered from HIV or AIDS? What if the house were haunted?

These are serious questions - even the last one. At least one court recognized that a purchaser stated a cause of action to rescind the contract when she discovered that a woman and her four children were murdered in the house. Reed v. King, 193 Cal. Rptr. 130 (Cal. Ct. App. 1983). In another case, buyers tried to rescind the purchase contract when they learned that the previous owner died of AIDS. Kleinfield v. McNally (N.Y. Co. Sup. Ct., July 15, 1988). In addition, a New York appellate court allowed a purchaser to rescind his contract on a property when he ascertained that his new house was widely reputed to be possessed by poltergeists. …

At least 21 states have adopted statutes speaking to stigmatizing issues in one way or another.

As you might gather, courts and legislatures are concerned not only about the emotional distress a particular buyer may or may not feel when he learns of the house's "stigma," but also about the lower resale value stemming from future prospective buyers' reactions, rational or not. In any case, an interesting article.