This is a hot topic among real estate lawyers and I want to look at some of the issues with buying a haunted house, in the spirit of the Halloween season. In Nova Scotia, when you are purchasing a home, we say that the law is “Buyer beware”. This means that the Seller is required to tell the Buyer about any defects that they know (or ought to know) that the home has. But then it is up to the Buyer to conduct standard investigations to assure themselves that they want to purchase the home in its current state, such as a building inspection, water test, etc.
Some things are difficult for a Buyer to investigate, for example, whether the septic is working property. As a result, standard real estate forms have a clause where the Seller will warrant (or promise) that the septic has been working properly. If the Buyer finds out after they move in that it is not they can sue the Seller because of this misstatement.
I have been practicing in St. Margaret’s Bay for 17 years and within the past 5 years or so I have seen real estate forms that include a clause where the Seller warrants that; “To the best of their knowledge the property has not been stigmatized by any of the following acts or occurrences: murder, suicide, grow-ops, hauntings…”
This clause causes lots of problems, for a Buyer and a Seller. First, what if you have a Seller who doesn’t believe in ghosts and explains the “bumps in the night” as faulty plumbing or tree branches hitting the roof. That Seller will warrant that the property is not haunted. When the new Buyer moves in, they are convinced the bumps are spirits and the house is haunted. So then to sue the Seller, the Buyer has to prove the Seller knew, or ought to have known, the house was haunted. But “hauntings”, some would argue, are not something objective that can be “proven”, like proving a septic is malfunctioning or a roof is leaking.
The next issue for the Buyer would be introducing independent evidence that the house is haunted. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? Seriously, a court would want independent expert evidence of the haunting. Would the Buyer call a psychic medium as their expert? And what credentials would this person have to have to be considered an expert in the field?
The Buyer would also have to prove that they suffered a loss as a result of the Seller not disclosing the existence of the ghost. But even if you could convince a Judge a house was haunted, how do you quantify your losses? For example, if you buy a house and the basement is leaking you can hire someone to quote the cost of fixing the problem; this would be your loss, plus any damage your items suffered when the basement flooded. But how do you determine your losses by having a ghost? What if it’s a “friendly” ghost? Consider the house on Jubilee Road with the famous “black window”. Lots of folks pay companies to take “ghost tours” around the city to view haunted sights. So could the fact that you have a haunted house be used to create profit; possibly. So if you could use the defect for commercial gain, can you say the defect is causing you a loss?
Presumably the type of ghost would affect the value as well. If it were a “friendly” apparition who appeared infrequently, your enjoyment of your home would be much less affected than a malevolent ghost that causes damage and fear. Or a ghost contained to one part of the home, say the attic, would presumably be less disruptive than a spirit that roams the entire house.
For now it appears that Canadian courts are not willing to award damages for Buyers who unwillingly find themselves the owners of a haunted house. But this could change as it appears that the courts are willing to consider awarding damages for hauntings on a case by case basis.