Are you buying a haunted house? The law can help.

posted by Danielle Edwards July 27, 2015

Did you ever imagine that, as a home buyer, you might need to be psychologically protected from your house? A recent story from New Jersey bring to mind the benefits afforded by due diligence and careful contracting in the home purchase process.  In the New Jersey case, a young couple that purchased a home allegedly received a series of anonymous letters shortly after the closing.  In the letters, a stalker that identified himself as “The Watcher” threatened to watch the house as his grandfather and father had done in the 1920’s and 1960’s, and demanded “new blood.”  Faced with this threat, the buyers were unable to move into their new home, and they recently filed suit against the sellers for failure to disclose the existence of a stalker prior to closing.

Are sellers required to disclose the history of the house?

In Connecticut, sellers are not required to disclose “nonmaterial facts” concerning real estate to buyers pursuant to our celebrated “ghostbuster law.”  At a minimum, this means that sellers do not have to disclose to home buyers whether any occupant of their home has ever been infected with a reportable disease, or whether at any time the home was suspected to have been the site of a homicide, suicide, or a felony. Other problems, such as hauntings or bad neighbors, may also be included in this statutory limitation.

How can conscientious buyers protect themselves from these and other unknown facts that may be very important to their future well being?

First, a buyer’s real estate attorney may request in writing that the seller disclose whether the property was ever suspected to have been the site of a homicide, felony, or a suicide.  If they do so, the seller must make any relevant disclosures, or else disclose that they refuse to do so. Second, while citywide crime statistics are generally reported, a buyer’s attorney may contact the local police department to request pinpointed crime statistics for the area around a potential home.  Finally, the buyer’s attorney may include a catch-all provision in the purchase contract that specifically addresses psychological impacts in order to hold the seller accountable for nondisclosure.  Such a provision might be phrased: “Seller represents that the premises being sold hereunder are not ‘psychologically impacted’ as the same is defined under section 20-329cc of the Connecticut General Statutes.” If you are concerned about the Connecticut law on this subject, it may be prudent to consult your real estate lawyer about specific types of “psychological impacts” to be addressed by sellers’ representations.

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