In a recent Charlotte Agenda article, the author, Mary F. Gross, reports on a home that her friend recently purchased – a 1920’s “bootlegger house” which came with historical character, secret compartments for stashing booze, and . . . a ghost? The buyers were apparently notified for the first time at the closing that the home also came with a “mischievous spirit.” In the piece, the author remarks that she would have “ripped up every single document in front of me and accused the owner of breaking some sort of ghost-disclosure law.” This got us thinking. Since it is the week of Halloween, we thought it appropriate to examine what type of “ghost disclosure law” there might be.
As you may expect, in the law, there are not many failure to disclose haunting cases, despite the fact that “[a] 2012 poll conducted by Huffington Post/YouGov found that 45 percent of American respondents believe in ghosts.” See Amanda C. Brown, Caveat Emptor, Buyer Boo-Ware Does Texas Require the Disclosure of Spooky Details in Real Estate Transactions?, 77 Tex. B.J. 780, 781 (2014).
One reported case we found comes from New York. In that proceeding, the “Plaintiff, to his horror, discovered that the house he had recently contracted to purchase was widely reputed to be possessed by poltergeists, reportedly seen by defendant seller and members of her family on numerous occasions over the last nine years.” Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.2d 254, 255-56 (N.Y.A.D. 1991). In Stambovsky, the court noted the traditional rule that “with respect to real estate . . . the doctrine of caveat emptore . . . imposes no duty upon the vendor to disclose any information concerning the premises.” Id. at 257. However, the Defendant in Stambovsky “reported [the] presence [of poltergeists] in both a national publication (Readers’ Digest) and the local press (in 1977 and 1982, respectively)” and the home was included on a walking ghost tour in the community. Id. at 256. In other words, the seller did disclose the presence of the poltergeists, but the disclosure was made to everyone except the buyer to whom she sold the home. As a result, the court found that the “defendant is estopped to deny [the poltergeists’] existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.” Id. The Court ultimately concluded that “[a]pplication of the remedy of rescission, within the bounds of the narrow exception to the doctrine of caveat emptor set forth herein, is entirely appropriate to relieve the unwitting purchaser from the consequences of a most unnatural bargain.” Id. at 260.
Some states maintain statutes which generally dictate one’s duty to disclose murders or other ghastly crimes committed in a home. Florida’s statute provides that “[t]he fact that a property was, or was at any time suspected to have been, the site of a homicide, suicide, or death is not a material fact that must be disclosed in a real estate transaction.” Fla. Stat. Ann. § 689.25(b). Massachusetts law provides that a buyer has no duty to disclose that a property has been “psychologically impacted,” meaning that there is no duty to disclose “that the real property was the site of a felony, suicide or homicide” or “that the real property has been the site of an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon,” among other things. Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 93, § 114 (b), (c). California law only requires disclosure of an “occupant’s death upon the real property or the manner of death” if the death occurred in the three years prior to the sale, unless the buyer specifically asks. Cal. Civ. Code § 1710.2 (“Nothing in this section shall be construed to immunize an owner or his or her agent from making an intentional misrepresentation in response to a direct inquiry from a transferee or a prospective transferee of real property, concerning deaths on the real property.”). And sorry, kids, you can’t vandalize a home just because you believe it to be haunted. See Daniel B. Moar, Case Law from the Crypt the Law of Halloween, N.Y. St. B.J., October 2011, at 10, 12 (citing Hayward v. Carraway, 180 So. 2d 758 (La. Ct. App. 1965) writ refused, 248 La. 909, 182 So. 2d 662 (1966)).
So, there you have it, if the State of North Carolina follows what appears to be the general law on ghost disclosure, there would be no duty for the seller to disclose the ghost in the bootlegger house, unless the seller had previously represented that the house was haunted, or unless the seller responded in the negative when specifically asked. We also wonder whether courts these days would impute to buyers knowledge which can be gleaned from the Internet (for example, from websites which purportedly can tell you if anyone has died in the house you are buying). In any event, for the time being, it does not appear that there would be a cause of action for nondisclosure of the ghost in the bootlegger house.
And, while the question was not posed, we believe we know what the bootlegger house ghost is after. Think about it. The ghost locks himself in the bathroom with the water running and flees down the stairs when someone catches him in the act. He tries to fire up heat sources and gets down copper pots from the cabinets. Folks, the man just wants to make bathtub gin, white lightnin’, or some other form of home made booze! Let the ghost do what he does best and you may see less of this:
And more of this:
[Of course, we make no representations regarding the safety or legality of humans or ghosts making alcohol in a private residence in North Carolina.]