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Scary Thought: Buying A Haunted House In Florida

Oct 31, 2016

Halloween is upon us and with the coming of this day, comes another reminder that buyers should beware.

What does state law have to do with the house you buy in Florida? A lot, and in ways you might not have imagined. If you're not buying a newly-constructed house, there's a history to be considered. Cooley Law School Assistant Professor Remalia DuBose says laws vary from state to state about what sellers must disclose to potential buyers---like, if the house is haunted.


DuBose says, “In the state of Florida, the Florida Legislature has determined that that is not material to the contract. In other words, you don’t have to be told about non-material things or other things that may have happened in that house.”

So she advises that you take your time and do some digging. Ask the neighbors, go to a little league game at the nearest park. Or find out when the next community gathering is and go there. You want to know if the house has a bad reputation and why. And she says every neighborhood has a neighborhood gossip, who is always willing to talk.  

After all, you don't want to hear your little girl echo the words from the famous 1982 movie Poltergeist...“They’re here.”

There's a famous ruling, known as the "Poltergeist case"---from a 1991 trial out of New York, where a realtor sold a house, known as the poltergeist house, and everyone in town knew it was haunted, but the person who bought that house was unaware. They bought the house and later sued the real estate agent, won and were able to get out of their contract on that home. 

Many U.S. Law schools teach about that case Stambovsky v. Ackley in New York and it’s often cited by other courts. In that case, New York’s Supreme Court said that a house, which the owner had previously advertised to the public as having paranormal activity, legally was haunted for the purpose of an action brought by a purchaser of the home. Under the law in New York now, sellers have to disclose that information. 

So what to do if you're stuck with such a house in Florida, where such a circumstance doesn’t void the contract?

“The legal side of me says, in Florida, you move on. The emotional and psychological side of me says, I’m getting the heck out of there,” DuBose said.

Perhaps that’s why she started to say she’d never bought anything but a new house in the four times she’d purchased homes. But then she laughed and backtracked, recalling that she did once buy a previously owned home. But that was for her children to live in, when they went to college.