When your house in haunted, who’re you going to call? Ghostbusters…and maybe an attorney? In the spirit of Halloween, we’d like to take a look at the legal implications of haunted houses. Many homebuyers are not aware of the fact that while the existence of ghosts is hotly debated, homeowners may be able to pursue legal action against previous homeowners in the case of hauntings.
In the famous case Stambovsky v. Ackley, in what is known as the “Ghostbusters ruling,” courts determined that owners have a duty to tell buyers if a home is considered haunted. The laws don’t just extend to ghosts, either. This year, a couple in Westfield, New Jersey filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against the previous owners of their home, alleging that the previous owners failed to disclose that a disturbed neighbor was fixated with the house. The lawsuit alleges that when the couple moved into their home, they started to receive disturbing messages from a man identified as the “Watcher.”
Could These Laws Affect You?
If you’re buying a home, things that go bump in the night may not worry you, but other home issues could cause serious problems in your new house. Under Chapter 689.25 of the Florida Code, owners or realtors do not need to disclose whether a property being sold “was, or was at any time suspected to have been, the site of a homicide, suicide, or death.” The same law also states that relators and owners don’t need to reveal whether an occupant has been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. While Florida laws specifically state these facts don’t need to be revealed, they do state home sellers need to reveal any information they know of which can affect the value or desirability of a property. This can include things such as:
- The presence of sinkholes
- Any legal issues or other disputes concerning the property
- Environmental hazards (such as Chinese drywall, asbestos, mold, and other issues)
- Infestations of pests such as termites
- Problems with major components of the house (such as the foundation or wiring)
The Florida Association of Realtors has a form which covers the most common issues sellers may need to disclose to avoid legal action. Of course, getting a thorough home inspection is still necessary and can help uncover some of these problems.
Under Florida laws, sellers are also protected. Sellers are not expected to sell properties free of defects, so they only need to disclose issues they know about. Even if a buyer feels a property owner should have known about a problem, in a lawsuit the buyer needs to be able to prove that the seller actually knew about an issue and failed to disclose it.
Have you purchased a home only to discover that it is afflicted by major problems that the previous owner knew about? Do you have questions about possibly seeking a legal claim against the prior owners of your property or the realtor who sold you the property? If you’d like to find out what your legal rights are, contact the full-service law firm of Flaxman Law Group. Through our offices in Hollywood, Homestead, Miami, we are proud to serve the entire South Florida area.