Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

For today's Halloween post I thought I'd share a bit about the forensic aspects of haunted houses. I didn't think there was such a topic until I stumbled over a law review article by Daniel Warner entitled, "Caveat spiritus: a jurisprudential reflection upon the law of haunted houses and ghosts." [28 Val. U.L. Rev. 207].

For the purposes of the law, haunted houses are a kind of property problem known as a "psychologically impacted property." According to Warner, this is real estate tainted with troubled pasts: murders, felonies or suicides. The question is, when you have a house like this are you required to disclose the past to the buyer?

According to the 1983 California case Reed v King, you do. This apparently was the first case addressing the issue. A buyer tried to get out of a house deal after she found out that a woman and her four children had been murdered there ten years before. The court agreed that she had a point because the seller failed to disclose this. After this many states passed laws protecting sellers and their agents from claims over "psychologically impacted property." The problem being, of course, that things like poltergeists and other creatures can't be detected in your typical home inspection.

Then again in 1991, a man bought a house in New York and later found out the previous owner had failed to disclose the presence of a ghost, something well-known in the community. The house was even featured regularly on neighborhood ghost tours. The buyer's wife was very uncomfortable with this even though the seller reassured them after the fact that the ghost was friendly. The court ruled in the buyer's favor, stating that even though the house wasn't haunted 'in fact', the judge decided it was haunted as a matter of law. (The news story about it can be read here.)

So who ya gonna call? According to Mary Pope-Handy, licensed realtor specializing in haunted property, the first person to call is a spiritual professional who may be able to convince the "discarnate" to move on. Unless, of course, you bought the house because you knew it came with a ghost.