In one of your recent articles you mentioned
requirements for real estate agents to disclose information
on sex offenders living in a neighborhood. Are there similar
laws requiring disclosure of murders or suicides that occurred
on a property?
In the real estate lexicon, you're asking about a "stigmatized
property." Such property, by loose definition, is the
site or suspected site of a murder or suicide, criminal activity
or even a resident poltergeist.
About 30 states have specific laws on the books
saying that agents and sellers cannot be held liable for not
disclosing such nonmaterial, or nonphysical, "defects"
about a house.
Agents do have an obligation to disclose any
"latent defects" to the buyer if they may materially
affect the physical health or safety of individuals on the
premises, but rarely would a suicide or murder on the premises
meet that standard.
However, some unwitting buyers would vehemently
disagree, based on the psychological impact of the event or
activity that occurred in the past in their newly purchased
home. And a few have even won lawsuits against sellers and
agents over the issue. One involved nondisclosure of a triple
murder at a house.
The examples of stigmatized properties are numerous.
Take Nicole Simpson's 3,400-square-foot home, which she bought
for $652,000 shortly before her murder on June 12, 1994. After
sitting vacant for more than two years, the four-bedroom,
three-bath condominium with a rooftop patio sold at a significantly
Then there was the Benedict Canyon bungalow
in which Sharon Tate was killed by followers of Charles Manson.
It was stigmatized by the horrific crimes and it had to be
In the minority of states that lack such laws,
the National Association of Realtors suggests that agents
evaluate whether such information would affect a purchase,
and when in doubt, disclose it to avoid any potential claim
against the seller or agent or both.
Of course, such a disclosure would probably
serve to depress the property's value.
In the end, the burden of discovery usually
falls on the buyer, much like it does in those states where
the proximity of a registered sexual offender to a for-sale
home comes into question. Such due diligence usually means
asking pointed questions of your agent and seller (and perhaps
even neighbors) about the place and by checking criminal data
bases through local law-enforcement agencies and the Internet.
If a nondisclosed murder or suicide has affected
your peace of mind, you should seek legal counsel to determine
your legal stance. Additionally, the NAR Web site has pages
and pages of information and news stories on the subject of
stigmatized properties. Go to realtor.org
and do a search for "stigmatized properties."
And, as always, good luck.