If you are anything like us, Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year! There’s nothing better than getting dressed up (vote for your favorite Heretik dinosaur-themed costume here), eating a bunch of candy, and watching some Halloween classics.
One of our favorite shows is American Horror Story, specifically season one, ‘Murder House,’ which is now (finally) overlapping with the current season ‘Apocalypse.’ If you aren’t familiar with ‘Murder House’, it’s a story of a family that moves to Los Angeles to start a new life, but in the process, unknowingly buy a home that is riddled with spirits of over 36 previous owners who have died in the house. That got us thinking – if a ghost still occupies its former house, is its former property agreement still legally enforceable? An anonymous broker (who is actually in the process of selling some real-life paranormal property right here in Chicago) gave us an insider look on what exactly happens when a property might be ‘haunted.’
The Harmon family in American Horror Story: Murder House (2011)
First let’s talk about the living. Our broker explained the ‘stigmatized property’ law that prohibits former home owners and realtors from hiding any (real or advertised) paranormal information about a house. There are four types of stigmas: phenomena, murder/suicide, criminal activity, public stigma and debt.
“There is something called ‘stigmatized property,’ which pertains to everything from damages, neighborhood issues, to ghosts. If you are the seller’s agent, you are not required to disclose anything like ghosts. Unless the agent for the buyer asks specifically.”
This broker also shared that whenever houses face public and phenomenal stigma, the price of the house falls generally in half, which is an obvious deterrent for sellers and their agents to disclose this information. In this American Horror Story example, the relator for the Harmon family technically did disclosed an incident that happened three years prior on the property, she also knowingly hid the many years of murder and death in the house. We won’t spoil it for you, but the Harmon family finds themselves unable to break their initial agreement (or sell their creepy house), so they are forced to discover and deal with their unwelcome ghostly guests.
Now on to the deceased. Believe it or not, the idea that spirits can become trapped in their home is not only a classic Hollywood tale, but is actually acknowledged by the law.
Generally, when someone dies in their home, their estate will pass to either a next of kin, or if no one claims it, the lender of the mortgage will have to settle the remaining amount, or if it is too expensive, foreclose.
However, what if that individual’s spirit continues “living” in this home?
Does this mean that the house was sold while there were still tenants living inside? Is this situation similar to that of someone selling a house without consent of the owner? Is it the same as if a previous owner refuses to move out of a house?
After a house is sold, the previous owners are required to leave the property within the allotted amount of time that negotiated. However, this isn’t always the case and this leads to what is known as unlawful occupation. So are ghosts considered unlawful occupants? The answer is a bit in the gray area, however, there is definitely a case to be argued for it.
In our AHS example, the Murder House goes through several stretches of time where the house remains unoccupied by the living. However, during this time the dead still reside inside (technically they are stuck there, but a majority of the now deceased, previous owners claim that the house is still theirs and they have no intention of “moving on”). We spoke with associate attorney Mike Peroff of Peroff Saunders, P.C. to get his thoughts.
American Horror Story: Murder House (2011)
“A tenant is defined as ‘a person who occupies the land or property’, and thus would necessarily need to be alive. Even if it is proved as a fact that the previous owner is haunting the property, they cannot be a valid tenant or occupant. So dead people do not have rights of ownership or possession. Their estate may have rights, but the deceased person does not.”
All this Halloween spirit got us thinking about a situation one of our favorite clients had. Our clients use Heretik to analyze several commercials property agreements at once. If one of our clients was representing a property owner who was concerned one of their properties could be haunted, they could leverage Heretik to quickly search specific clauses that they know may or may not include “Disclosure Verbiage,” and then use Heretik’s Viewer and ‘Custom Regular Expressions Upload’ workflow to quickly identify and code the text. Here is how this looks in action below.
Lastly, this article was to provoke some thought around a hypothetical situation in the spirit (see what we did there) of Halloween. We all know the first phone call you would have to make if you actually found a ghost in your home. Happy Halloween!
Claire is a Marketing Coordinator at Heretik. She recently graduated from Miami University Ohio with a double major in Journalism and Mandarin Chinese. Prior to Heretik, Claire worked at Amdur Productions and for Miami College of Arts and Science.