Buyer Beware: Sellers in Most States Don’t Have to Disclose If Their Home Is “Haunted”
They have to tell you about a water damage problem, but if they believe there’s a friendly (or not-so-friendly) ghost in the attic, they can keep that quiet.
When you’re buying a home, there are some items—called real estate disclosures—that the home sellers are required to tell you about the home. These disclosures vary by state (though federal law requires people in all states to disclose the known presence of lead paint) and include issues such as mold, termite damage, roof leaks, and the like. These rules are intended to protect potential home buyers from nasty surprises after they move into their new homes—though, according to a new analysis, the presence of ghosts isn’t included in any disclosure laws.
You may not believe in ghosts, ghouls, spirits, or lingering souls, but you’ve likely seen plenty of horror movies (maybe some of these Halloween movies on Netflix?) that start with an unsuspecting family purchasing and moving into a haunted house. “Why would anyone buy a haunted house?” you may ask, and while some people certainly are interested in haunted houses for sale, plenty may not know the house is rumored to be haunted before they sign on the dotted line.
According to a new analysis from Zillow, home sellers in most states don’t have to tell potential home buyers if their house is haunted, so it would be easy enough for someone to buy a house without knowing it possessed a ghost (allegedly)—or the other way around. (Insert Halloween puns here.) In fact, only four states have mentions of paranormal activity in their real estate disclosure laws at all.
In New Jersey, sellers must disclose known info about potential hauntings or paranormal activity only if asked; in New York, courts will rescind a sale if the seller takes unfair advantage of a buyer’s ignorance of a home’s reputation for paranormal activity or if the seller creates and perpetuates said reputation. In Massachusetts, the law specifically says sellers do not have to disclose “an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon,” and in Minnesota, they do not have to disclose perceived paranormal activity. In all other 46 states, there’s no rule stating sellers must tell a potential buyer about the presence of a ghost or strange goings-on.
To an extent, that’s not surprising—to legislate the disclosure of paranormal activity is to firmly acknowledge its existence, which many people won’t do. But, as any good horror movie buff knows, most dastardly spirits are created when someone is murdered or otherwise dies in a space. Knowing if someone was murdered or if a suicide was committed on a property has little to do with ghosts, but a few states (Alaska, California, and South Dakota) specifically require sellers to share if a death occurred on their property in the recent past. (A few more say they must respond truthfully if asked about an unnatural death on the property.) Some states even have legislation that actively states sellers do not have to disclose death on the property.
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Some people—the type collecting haunted house ideas or looking into haunted house rentals—would love the opportunity to purchase a purportedly haunted house. For others, though, knowing a house is rumored to be haunted or that a property was recently the site of a death could be enough to make them rescind their offer and look elsewhere. Some home sellers may take it upon themselves to say if a property is haunted, but if you’re really concerned about possible paranormal activity, ask the seller and do your research before you buy.