So, with Halloween upon us, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss the issues surrounding the sale of homes that have been rumored to beâ€¦. well, ummâ€¦.haunted.
There is an agent in my office who tells the story of a couple whom he met early in his real estate career. This couple was adamant that they would ONLY consider houses that were haunted, and so he focused on showing them older homes with the hope that eventually, theyâ€™d find one with a ghost. The couple did eventually purchase a house that was supposedly haunted, but the determination of whether it was haunted was something that their agent was unable to make on their behalf. It came down to a feeling that the buyers had when they were in the house, and was not based on anything the agent said or did.
Itâ€™s probably safe to assume that most people do NOT want to live with an uninvited, un-paying tenantâ€”regardless of whether the tenant is from this world or another. The question is this: do you have to say something to a potential buyer if there is a rumor that dearly departed Aunt Suzie still lives in the attic?
From the Georgia Real Estate Commissionâ€¦â€Licensees must affirmatively disclose material defects in the physical condition of the property. However, they are not required to disclose whether a homicide or other felony or a suicide occurred on a property unless a prospect asks them. The key distinction is that felonies, suicides, and infectious diseases generally do not involve the physical condition of the property. Their impact on the property is psychological...... However, the Attorney General's office indicated that when a client or customer questions a licensee as to whether a property "was the site of a homicide or other felony or the site of a suicide," the licensee should "answer truthfully to the best of such [licensee's] knowledge. â€
Disclosure? That is easy, if the issue is physical. The roof leaked? The water heater doesnâ€™t always work? Easy. Disclose it! We think we see dead people? Another thing altogether. So you can see that the rule in Georgia is that hauntings do not have to be disclosed (really, how would an agent truly know?), butâ€”if asked about whether the property was the site of a homicide or other felony or the site of a suicideâ€”an agent should do their best to give a correct answer.
Well, now! Iâ€™ve been in plenty of creepy houses over the years, but I canâ€™t say that Iâ€™ve ever had a client ask me specifically whether the property was haunted or whether there was a homicide, felony, etc. I did have a guy ask whether someone had died in the house---it turns out the answer was, â€œyesâ€. (He didnâ€™t make an offer on that one.)
So, what would I tell a SELLER facing the issue of what to say about the strange goings on at their property? Disclose it IF you are convinced that your property is haunted. If thereâ€™s ever any doubt, youâ€™ve covered your liability.
What would I tell a BUYER, concerned about whether the house comes with a free ghost? Ask! Be specific. And ask whether there has been a violent crime or suicide in the house, since thatâ€™s the only tangible thing (letâ€™s hope, anyway) that an agent would be able to research on your behalf.
AND OF COURSE, IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS about how to interpret disclosure laws in the State of Georgia, seek the advice of a licensed attorney.
The Campbell Team at Keller Williams Atlanta Realty Partners
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT THE OFFICIAL GEORGIA CODE:
The Official Code of Georgia Annotated Section 44-1-16 addresses this issue directly:
(a)(1) No cause of action shall arise against an owner of real property, a real estate broker, or any affiliated licensee of the broker for the failure to disclose in any real estate transaction the fact or suspicion that such property:
(A) Is or was occupied by a person who was infected with a virus or any other disease which has been determined by medical evidence as being highly unlikely to be transmitted through the occupancy of a dwelling place presently or previously occupied by such an infected person; or
(B) Was the site of a homicide or other felony or a suicide or a death by accidental or natural causes;
provided, however, an owner, real estate broker, or affiliated licensee of the broker shall, except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, answer truthfully to the best of that personÂ´s individual knowledge any question concerning the provisions of subparagraph (A) or (B) of this paragraph.
(2) An owner, real estate broker, or affiliated licensee of the broker shall not be required to answer any question if answering such question or providing such information is prohibited by or constitutes a violation of any federal or state law or rule or regulation, expressly including without limitation the federal Fair Housing Act as now or hereafter amended or the stateÂ´s fair housing law as set forth in Code Sections 8-3-200 through 8-3-223.
(b) No cause of action shall arise against an owner of real property, real estate broker, or affiliated licensee of the broker for the failure to disclose in any real estate transaction any information or fact which is provided or maintained or is required to be provided or maintained in accordance with Code Section 42-9-44.1. No cause of action shall arise against any real estate broker or affiliated licensee of the broker for revealing information in accordance with this Code section. Violations of this Code section shall not create liability under this Code section against any party absent a finding of fraud on the part of such party.