Not so long ago, BakerLaw had the pleasant surprise of being asked to confirm whether the property our client was selling was indeed haunted and if so, what plans were in place to deal with said haunting. To make matters even more strange, the buyers surveyor noted that in the garden area, there was a tombstone and grave.
This is the first time that any of our solicitors had come across this in a sale and as you can imagine there is no legislation or protocol we could fall back on.
Whatever information a seller gives to a buyer that is intended to be relied upon, must be accurate, otherwise they could potentially be guilty of misrepresentation or fraud. So, when asked if the property is haunted what answer could our client give? If a seller said “no it’s not haunted” but, after completion the buyer believed it to indeed be haunted, it could lead to the seller being sued and incur the heavy costs of having to defend themselves. Despite the fact that a case of this nature would be difficult for the buyer to prove. If they said “yes it’s haunted” it could lead to the buyer pulling out of the transaction resulting in additional costs in re-marketing the property and abortive solicitors’ fees incurred up to the date the transaction fell apart.
We decided to investigate previous Court cases to see if the Courts have ever had to deal with something of this nature. The UK had very little on this topic. However, the USA have actually had a case, called Stambovsky v. Ackley, or more fondly called ‘the ghostbusters ruling’ go all the way to the New York Supreme Court. In this case the seller had made frequent public claims that her property was haunted. When she sold, she had not disclosed this to the buyer and the buyer was not aware of the claims previously made. The buyer put down a deposit of $32,500 and later found out of the alleged haunting. The buyer filed a lawsuit requesting the contract be rescinded and he claimed for damages in respect of fraudulent misrepresentation. The buyer failed in his lawsuit for not turning up to Court. However, the Court noted that regardless of whether the house was truly haunted or not, the fact that the house had been widely reported as being haunted greatly affected the value. The ruling could therefore have turned out very different had the buyer turned up to Court.
Despite the possible haunting, our client’s matter proceeded to completion and resulted in both a happy seller and buyer.
This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.