The Tucson housing market is teeming with houses and apartments for rent. On Craigslist alone, hundreds of rental opportunities scream for attention. Homeowners and property managers try to convey that one unique quality that will draw the eyes of a potential renter to their ad. With the popularity of ghosts and the paranormal hard to ignore, the thought of advertising a rental as haunted is extremely tempting, whether paranormal activity actually occurs on the property or not.
Take some time to the research real estate laws in your state, because that decision may very well come back to haunt you.
What if you want to sell your property in the future? Many states have “stigmatized property” laws concerning the disclosure of information to potential buyers. Murders, suicides, and in some states, even paranormal activity fall into this category. Once a property is advertised to the public as haunted, the property may become “stigmatized” in some states. Then, if this paranormal activity is not relayed to a potential future buyer, then it could fall into the realm of “non-disclosure” in a real estate transaction.
A textbook case of a similar scenario in New York is a great example of non-disclosure. Stambovsky v. Ackley (572 N.Y.S. 2d 672, 1991), is a well known “haunted house” case. In the 70’s and 80’s, Helen Ackley publicly claimed that her house was haunted. Ackley discussed the ghostly activities occurring in the home with Reader’s Digest, and continued to share her experiences with the local media for many years. The house was even on the agenda on a local tour route.
Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky bought the home without the knowledge of the local lore attached to it. Mrs. Stambovsky was simply terrified at the mere thought of living in the home, so the couple sued to get out of the contract. Despite losing the first round of their contract dispute, they appealed in 1991, and subsequently won, in the State of New York Appellate Court.
“Whether the source of the spectral apparitions seen by defendant seller are parapsychic or psychogenic, having reported their presence in both a national publication and the local press, defendant is estopped to deny their existence, and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.” Justice Israel Rubin, Stambovsky v. Ackley
So what’s the harm in posting that Craigslist ad if you don’t plan on selling the home for a few years? The ad wouldn’t show up in Google results five years from now, right? Who’s gonna know?
Don’t be so sure that a neighbor wasn’t paying attention to that ad you posted, for example. We all have that guy down the street who pays attention to everything. He notices your house is sitting there empty. He’s likely to comb through the ads to see what kind of rent you are planning to charge for your home. Yes, he’s THAT guy. He sees your ad and is very likely amused by it. A couple years later, you sell the home, and he’ll be the first one over your old house to introduce himself to the new owners. Neighbors, like elephants, never forget anything. The first thing he’s likely to say to his new neighbors: “Seen any ghosts yet?” Then, you may have a big problem on your hands. Again, it depends on the laws in your particular state.
Even if you don’t have that neighbor, and you do rent the haunted house you advertised, the tenants lured into renting your home will likely probe the neighbors about any of the paranormal activity you advertised. Paranormal enthusiasts aren’t afraid to ask these questions, and they can, and will, ask anyone in the immediate vicinity. The next thing you know, your property gains a reputation as the “haunted house” on the block. More often than not “stigmatized” homes do not sell for full value. They usually sit unsold for much longer than non-stigmatized homes. That’s something else to consider.
Okay, so Arizona law does not require disclosure of a haunted property to a buyer, you’re safe in Arizona, right? New York law was established based on this very scenario, so don’t be so sure that the new owner of your home isn’t going to be the plaintiff, and subsequent winner, in a landmark case against you.
As an interesting aside, and even more of a reason to think twice before placing that ad, Rent.com conducted a Halloween survey this year that posed a question:
Would you live in a haunted house for cheaper rent?
The results speak volumes: 69% would live in such a home at discounted or free rent. This isn’t good news, though. Of those, half of those people would live with the ghosts if there was no rent charged. About a quarter of those would sign the lease for half the normally charged rent. Some would move in if utilities or cable were tossed into the deal. However, roughly 30% wouldn’t even think about giving it a try, even if they could live rent-free.
In short, that ad for a haunted house or apartment isn’t going to get you a tenant, unless you practically let them live there for free, or for well below the rent you would normally charge. It just isn’t worth it.
Take the time to consider any consequences of advertising that property as haunted, whether you believe it to be haunted or not. It would be wiser to discuss any paranormal activity directly with a potential renter prior to the signing of a lease agreement, if you feel a dire need to disclose such a thing.
Either way, just know the laws in your state, and think carefully about what you want to convey through that advertisement. Stick with the really sought after features in your rental ad: air conditioning is a highly sought after feature here in Arizona.