Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Bee .. Haunted House Disclosure Law!

Copyright © 2015 Roger H. Goun. Available at http://www.virtualnexus.com/images/beetlejuicegroup2015small.jpg

Imagine this.  You’re a New York City real estate developer.  You just married your second wife, an interior designer, and are looking to get out of the big city and experience some country life.  Your real estate agent finds exactly the perfect house in Wind River, Connecticut (not a real place upon further inspection.) However, the current owners have no interest in selling.  Strangely the day after throwing your agent out of the house, the current owners drove off of a bridge and died.  You immediately swipe in and buy the Connecticut property, and move your daughter, wife, and wife’s interior designer friend Otho into the house.  Your wife immediately starts to remodel the home to give it a more modern esthetic, because, that’s what she does.

However, weird things start happening. One day while eating lunch, everyone present, as if they could read each other’s minds, starts in on what seems to be a well-rehearsed and well-coordinated version the Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song (Day-O.)  While it was really well done, and quite a bit of fun, it seemed strange because no one in your family really likes calypso music or is a particularly good singer.  Strange.  Then, you hear your daughter, who admittedly has always been a bit eccentric, having conversations with people in the attic.  Upon inspection, you find a strange model town and an even stranger book titled Handbook for the Recently Deceased.  Interior designer Otho has always been into these types of things, so he tries to have a séance as described in the book.  Before you know it, you have a couple of decaying ghosts floating above your kitchen table, your daughter dressed in an old-timey wedding dress, and this guy Beatleguise transforming into a purple and black snake.  Even though you always preferred Michael Keaton’s batman to all the others, this situation is less than ideal, and you’d really like to get your money back and return this ridiculous house. 

Of course, this is the plot of the cult classic ghost movie Beatlejuice from a different perspective.  But, this is a legitimate legal question that has been addressed by state legislatures and courts alike – are there remedies for homebuyers who buy haunted houses?  There are causes of actions for purposefully hidden defects like plumbing and electrical issues, so why not ghosts?

Unfortunately, in terms of legal remedies, the Deetz family is probably out of luck.  Connecticut has enacted a set of statutes sometimes called the “Ghostbuster Laws[1].”  These laws specifically state that the existence of a nonmaterial fact need not be disclosed in a real estate sale and that “no cause of action shall arise for the failure to disclose a nonmaterial fact[2].” Moreover, the law defines “nonmaterial fact” as the fact that a property has been infected with diseases or was at any time suspected to have been the site of a death or felony[3].  Disclosure must only be made if asked for by the purchaser.[4]  While the statutes do not specifically mention hauntings, Connecticut law seems to focus much more on whether any nondisclosed acts had any physical effects on the house.  So long as the sandworms didn’t smash big holes in the floor (which they ended up doing in the movie), the Deetz family is probably out of luck.

But, what about Georgia? If the Deetz’s house was in, say, Stone Mountain Georgia, they’d probably have a similar result.  Unfortunately, Georgia and the rest of the country handle hauntings disclosure in much the same way.  Similar to the Connecticut law, the Georgia Stigmatized Property Act states that no cause of action shall arise for failure to disclose if the property was occupied by a person with a disease or the site of a homicide unless specifically asked[5].  If states speak on this type of disclosure, this is the majority approach[6]

Hope is not lost, though, for haunted house owners countrywide.  In Stambovsky v. Ackley, the New York Appeals Court did hold that when a house seller failed to disclose her belief that a house was haunted by a poltergeist, the buyer could rescind the contract of sale but not receive money damages[7].     

In conclusion, US law seems to favor a more “Casper the Friendly Ghost” than a “suck you into the tv Poltergeist” approach.  State statutes typically only require physical defect disclosures and typically don’t require sellers to disclose known hauntings, past murders, or diseases. So, if you’re anywhere but New York state, make sure to specifically ask your seller if the house is haunted. If you’re in the right state, they’ll have to disclose.  Otherwise, you had better hope that your ghost is the Casper type, because beyond reselling, you’re probably stuck with your house and all your new paranormal friends.  


[1] So characterized in Robinson v. Parillo, 1999 WL 240735 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1999)

[2] Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-329dd

[3] Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-329cc

[4] Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-329ee

[5] O.C.G.A. § 44-1-16

[6] See 18 A.L.R.7th Art. 2 (Originally published in 2016) for more examples and detail. 

[7] Stambovsky v. Ackley, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672 (1st Dep’t 1991)