In New Jersey, when you are selling your house, you need to disclose to the buyer known material defects. If you deliberately hide or fail to advise the buyer of a known material defect, you may find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit. But what are your obligations to disclose a murder, death, or haunting?
"Houses are not haunted. We are haunted, and regardless of the architecture with which we surround ourselves, our ghosts stay with us until we ourselves are ghosts." -Dean Koontz
New Jersey Court has held that murders, deaths, and hauntings are not material defects but rather "psychological impairments." (See, Petrosino v. Ventrice, No. A-0020-13T1 (App. Div. Aug. 27, 2015.)
In Petrosino, the Appellate Division overturned the lower Court's ruling concerning the failure by the seller to disclose that two children were killed because of a malfunctioning elevator in the house. However, the lower Court's decision was overturned not because the seller failed to disclose the deaths but rather because the seller knew of the elevator malfunction and did not disclose it.
The Court, while discussing the obligations of a realtor to disclose known defects concerning the elevator, stated: "The regulation, however, further provides that information about psychological impairments, defined by way of example as including, but not limited to, "a murder or suicide which occurred on a property, or a property purportedly being haunted," is not "considered information which affects the physical condition of a property." N.J.A.C. 11:5-6.4(d). Although licensees need not automatically disclose information regarding psychological impairments, Petrosino v. Ventrice, No. A-0020-13T1 (App. Div. Aug. 27, 2015) (slip op. at 12)
Thus, under New Jersey law, a seller does not have to disclose a murder, death, suicide, or haunting. However, if a buyer asks explicitly, and a seller has knowledge of such an event, then he or she should disclose it, but only if asked.
Keep in mind that every state has different rules, requirements, and regulations. For example, in California, sellers must disclose a death on the property within 3 years. In Alaska, a death within one year must be disclosed. In South Dakota, sellers must disclose a homicide on the property. Surprisingly, if you own a particular house in the fictional town of Haddonfield, (you know which one I am referring too), you do not have to disclose anything as Illinois has no laws concerning a seller's obligation to disclose death, murder, or the like.
So, the good news is that if you live in New Jersey, even if you live on Elm Street, you do not have to disclose any gruesome (or natural caused) events that occurred at your house, unless asked.
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