In Property law, sellers generally have no affirmative duty to disclose defects in a home, unless they are “material.” Lying is always a no-no, but unless a defect is material, the seller can remain silent. One of the cases we use to teach this doctrine is Stambovsky v. Ackley, where a court (wrongly in my opinion) held that a house reported to be haunted suffered from a material defect, which the seller had a duty to disclose. Thankfully, this remains the minority rule.
Home sellers in Pennsylvania are under no obligation to disclose if a house was the site of a murder, a suicide, or even satanic rituals, according to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
“The varieties of traumatizing events that could occur on a property are endless,” wrote Justice J. Michael Eakin in the court’s July 21 opinion. “Efforts to define those that would warrant mandatory disclosure would be a Sisyphean task.”
The ruling was in response to a suit filed by a Delaware County woman who had claimed the McMansion she bought in Thornton had an undisclosed “material defect,” because the seller had not told her that at a murder/suicide had been committed in the home.
The ruling dismissed the woman’s argument that the home’s history resulted in a reduction in its value.
The court said that such events could not be quantified, and went on to ask if a death by poisoning would be “a less significant defect” than a bloody stabbing or shooting.
“What if the killings were elsewhere, but the sadistic serial killer lived there? What if satanic rituals were performed in the house?” Justice Eakin wrote.
The court also noted the 2006 tragedy had been well-publicized, news that could have been discovered easily in print or online.
This ruling is exactly right. And in the age of Google, it is inexcusable not to Google an address and see what pops up.