Law & Fiction — a few recent discoveries

The “law” half of this blog has been fairly quiet recently. My apologies; I’m not as good at splitting myself in two (or more) personalities as I ought to be! I’ve come across a couple of articles recently that I thought worth sharing, even without a full blog post on the topics.

What happens when a person dies alone, without close friends or relatives, and not under a doctor’s care? This NY Times story, The Lonely Death of George Bell, describes the detailed process undertaken by the NYC Public Administrator and its agents and investigators. Other cities and counties follow a similar process, though not always so thorough.

I’ve written before about houses where crimes occurred, and the obligations of a seller or real estate broker to disclose murders on the premises — “When Crime Taints a House,” and “Ghostly Tenants and the Duty to Disclose.”  Now, there’s an app for that. (Hat tip to Seattle Mystery Bookshop.) “Died In House” tracks confirmed deaths by residential address, using obits, news accounts, and other searches. Many buyers want to know, and not just because they’re afraid of ghosts or because stigma can lower the price or make resale tricky. State laws on disclosure vary, and enforcement is difficult, so where there’s a gap, there’s an app.

I’ve also written about girls in the justice system. The Washington State Bar blog presents an in-the-courts-and-trenches view about girl-focused reform.

Ghostly tenants and the duty to disclose

ghosts2Missed getting this up in time for Halloween, but hey, it’s never too late to talk ghosts, vampires, and other such things.

According to the Washington State Bar blog, NW Sidebar, a New York court held in 1991 that the would-be buyer of a house was entitled to rescind the transaction when he learned that the house had a reputation of being haunted — a fact the sellers had not disclosed, despite having publicized the house’s haunting in local news sources and even in Readers’ Digest.

In my opinion, a seller who knows that his house is thought to be haunted — whether or not he believes it, or has ever publicized the place as having supernatural occupants — should disclose it, or risk a suit to rescind the transaction for failure to disclose or for misrepresentation. Standard real estate disclosure forms in most states require disclosure of crimes or deaths the seller knows occurred on the property, and some require disclosure of the seller’s knowledge of registered sex offenders living in the vicinity. I’ve never heard of a Ghost Disclosure form. But many states also require sellers to disclose any material facts about the property, particularly those not obvious on inspection. A ghost or a ghostly reputation may not be (sorry) material in the same way as a boundary dispute or a leaky roof, but it is exactly the sort of thing that could affect a potential buyer’s decision. So, in my opinion, failure to disclose could come back to haunt you.

Photo from MorgueFile free photos.