A death in a house is not considered a “material defect” in Pennsylvania

Superstitious about deaths in a house? You have to do your own detective work says PA court.

Home sellers can keep murders, suicides secret – Philly.com.

Planning on buying a house this year?

If you’re even slightly squeamish, get ready to do some extra detective work.

If the property was the site of bloody crime, the seller does not have to divulge that scrap of information.

In a decision handed up in Pennsylvania last week, a panel of Superior Court judges reaffirmed that the sordid reputation of a home – no matter how gruesome – does not count as “material defect” and does not have to be disclosed to the buyer.

“The fact that a murder once occurred in a house falls into that category of homebuyer concerns best left to caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware, the court wrote.

This also applies in New Jersey.

Even if the realtor knows of the history, they are not obligated to disclose it. In this case, Janet Milliken asserts she would never would have bought the house she did if she had been aware of the grisly crime that took place there – a murder/suicide. Brokers often consider homes that have been the scene of a murder or suicide as “stigmatized.” There is also a fear that the house may be haunted. Milliken asserted that the [psychic] damage to the house was as real as any structural defect because the crime diminished the value of the property.

Here is something that always gets me… people die all the time all over the place and everywhere is NOT haunted. We can not prove ghosts and tales of hauntings which are often relating to things OTHER than who certainly died on the property. In fact, many hauntings are imaginary or made up or have more to do with the environment or perceived importance of the place. We simple CAN NOT say that when a person dies in a house, his/her spirit remains there. It’s folklore. It’s a superstition to believe that’s a bad thing.

So, while we can’t help feeling a bit creeped out by the idea that a violent encountered occurred, it is NOT a permanent imprint. But, the stigma created in society CAN be harsh, but it can also be lucrative, as the rise in paranormal tourism has shown. Perhaps advertising that the place MAY be haunted will increase the value and be attractive to those hauntrepreneurs looking for some unreal estate.

For more on this feeling we have about paranormal stigmatization, check out Bruce Hood’s Supersense Also available in paperback as The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs

Here an interview on Point of Inquiry with Bruce Hood

Piece from Ben Radford on Discovery News

Another piece on this: (28-Jan-2013) from ABC News.

The Amityville horror house today in New York. NOT FOR SALE. And not haunted either.

The Amityville horror house today in New York. NOT FOR SALE. And not haunted either.

  12 comments for “A death in a house is not considered a “material defect” in Pennsylvania

  1. January 5, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    We’ve always joked that when we are ready to shop for a house that we’ll do research on houses up for sale in which a murder or suicide occurred so we can get the “creep out” discount. It’s certainly not that we’re insensitive to the horror of that act, it’s just that
    a) we don’t feel it should have any effect on the future of the wholly inanimate structure (including its monetary value), and
    b) lots of horrible but non-fatal things happen in most houses if they hang around long enough. Domestic abuse, alcoholism, sick children, natural and accidental deaths. Should all of those “psychic events” curse a house too? Ridiculous.

  2. Albatross
    January 5, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    I’ve always wondered why hospitals aren’t full of ghosts. Shouldn’t there be scores of tormented spirits there?

    • One Eyed Jack
      January 5, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      Many people do claim hospitals are haunted. Of course, these are the same people that believe other places are haunted, so it’s no surprise.

  3. D.Walker
    January 5, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    I’d want to know if someone had been murdered in a house I might buy. And I wouldn’t want to buy it if someone HAD been murdered there. It’s not ghosties so much as being reminded of death and violence more than I’d be comfortable with. And if a floor had been saturated with blood, it would tend to creep out my dog, with his sense of smell being so good. Also, the murder might have occurred because of some environmental issue (Lead, Mercury, Meth Lab, etc.) or because it was located in a place that made crime and/or murder easier or more likely.

    • January 7, 2013 at 2:21 PM

      Realtors would be required to notify buyers of lead, mercury, hazardous chemicals, etc.. Those things are material defects, regardless of any associated human deaths. They are also required to report if the previous tenants died of any infectious disease.

  4. Phil
    January 6, 2013 at 6:09 AM

    It’s not a “material” defect. But it can certainly affect the price of the house. Though this is by nature a skeptic site let us consider a thought experiment. You shop for a house in the country. You find one at a 1% discount off the market price. Then you find out a mass murderer cannibal lived there and had bodies all over the yard and the house. Still interested?
    Let us be honest. No.

    • Chew
      January 6, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      Speak for yourself. I would take advantage of that information and ask for a huge discount.

      • oldebabe
        January 6, 2013 at 2:07 PM

        Me, too. If I liked the place, I liked it, and so what? Especially if the price was right. People die or are killed in all kinds of places all over the world at all times over the human life-span. We could, and probably do, live on top of all kinds of carcasses.

    • January 7, 2013 at 2:26 PM

      I would say yes, absolutely. Would it be eerie and sad? Sure, but for me part of being a skeptic is living logically and not being governed by whims of emotion and superstition. Honestly I think I would take the house and donate a good portion of the money I was saving to a local battered woman’s shelter or something similar. Then I would have taken this awful event and produced at least two positive outcomes.

  5. EvilTwinSelf
    January 6, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    The “mass murderer cannibal” thing would be a special case as such a rare event could attract the more macabre type of sightseers to the property and cause genuine inconvenience to a new owner. “Bloody crimes” are sadly more common and would not have this effect.

  6. Brian
    January 29, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    First off- you buy a house, arent told about the grisly murders, and find a body or part the investigators missed during the investigation. A worthy scenario: You are tearing out a wall, and you find victim #40, right as he is tumbing staright into you, mummified face still stuck in a scream.

    Time for a new set of pants, underwear, and a mop! Someone would be explaining to me WHY it was not mentioned. Would you be able to sleep coming across something like that? If you are frightened by coming in contact with something like that (people are), would that not be torture? The human mind does nasty things when it’s been shaken like that. I should know.

    I was helping someone’s aunt clean her house, as she couldnt do it herself. One cold, snowy morning, he called her to see if she was ok- no response. We go out there, and for some reason I cannot explain, I suddenly let him go into the house first. She was dead. hours later, they wheeled out the body. I was a tad… upset. Refused to go into the house, because the creep factor had gone past what I was used to.

    A week later, I was convinced to go into the house to clean it out. I was jumpy, to say the least. Suddenly… I heard a noise. A faint wail. As the windows were opened to let the air thru, a suddent ratting of the window sent me nearly THROUGH the door, with me screaming like a schoolgirl- until I realized a cat was climbing into the room. I had a radio turned full volume with me with the rest of the cleaning…. He offered the place for rent, and I just couldnt. Seriously. I say not mentioning the house’s various problems is dirty dealings- if for nothing else- people’s fears and sensitivites, which will ‘haunt’ a place much easier than a real ghost. Making said place not liveable, at least by the new owner.

    • January 29, 2013 at 11:58 AM

      The odds of you finding body parts after modern day crimes is really low. They rip the place apart to clean it, especially in a criminal case.

      Some people may be freaked out, no doubt, but many WON’T be. We’ve featured stories before about how superstitions in Asian countries are less now that housing prices are higher. Also, you might want to check out Bruce Hood’s book SuperSense. It’s called something else here in the U.S. version but it talks about how we have these feelings that are ultimately irrational.

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