Don’t be haunted by not disclosing your poltergeist
November 4-10, 2019
By Jay Edwards
People have always been fascinated with the unknown world of ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. That is, until they find out there may be some hanging around the hallways of the home they just bought.
Just ask Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky, who nearly 30 years ago were smoothly moving towards closing on their large Victorian on the Hudson River in Nyack, New York.
Most everyone in the tiny village of Nyack had known for years that the 5,000 square foot home owned by Helen and George Ackley was haunted. The Ackleys didn’t mind telling their friends and neighbors after they had seen a ghost in the house, or about being awakened every morning by their shaking bed. Other than that minor inconvenience they had lived in harmony with whatever it was that was in no hurry to move on to the next world, like most respectful ghosts do.
The people Helen and George failed to share their haunted house tale with however, were the two who would have been most interested, the Stambovskys, who had over $30,000 in escrow at the title company and were trusting they would soon take possession of an unencumbered property.
Being a friendly and neighborly town, word of the hauntings got back to the Stambovskys, who, like most people who just want a good night’s rest, backed out of the deal.
But the Ackleys weren’t agreeable to that and refused to refund the deposit. So the Stambovskys decided to sue, which led to a ruling from the New York Appellate Court that, because a routine home inspection would not, at least not always, uncover the presence of a ghost, it is the responsibility and the duty of the sellers to disclose to all potential buyers that their house is haunted.
Since then, the “Ghostbuster” decision from Stambovsky vs. Ackley has been widely taught in law school classes around the country.
The Seller Property Disclosure from the Arkansas Realtors Association has 53 questions on the form that homeowners, when they list their house for sale, are expected to answer to the best of their knowledge. But of those 53, none ask, “Is your house haunted?” or, “Have you ever seen a ghost on the premises?” Or even, “Do you wake up to your bed shaking every morning?” The one that comes closest to covering these type of things is question number 35, which asks, “To your knowledge, are there any facts, circumstances or events on or around the Property, which, if known to a potential buyer, could adversely affect in a material manner the value or desirability of the Property?” The key word here is “material.”
In a column put out by the Arkansas Real Estate Commission in July of 2015, titled, “Question About Disclosure Presents Multifaceted Response,” the commission’s executive director, Gary Isom, explored the question, “Is there a state law in Arkansas that requires every property owner to disclose all aspects of the condition of his or her property when selling that property?”
Isom’s answer was no, and he explained, “I doubt there will ever be such a law in Arkansas. It would be a very difficult sell for a legislator to convince all the citizens of his constituency that it is in their best interest for the state to require those property owners to disclose everything they know about their property whenever they sell it.” However, Isom continued by stating there is a real estate commission regulation, which states, “A [real estate] licensee shall exert reasonable efforts to ascertain those facts which are material to the value or desirability of every property for which the licensee accepts the agency, so that in offering the property, the licensee will be informed about its condition and thus able to avoid intentional or negligent misrepresentation to the public concerning such property.”
He continues, “Let’s consider that a previous owner was brutally murdered in the house. While the market value of the house may be compromised by such knowledge in the community, we cannot readily conclude that the material value of the property is affected. Most agents, when placed in this situation, tell us that they will advise the seller that any information of this sort be disclosed.”
This led to law makers defining the difference between “materially affected” and “psychologically affected.”
The state law in Arkansas Code Annotated 17-10-101, paragraph 5, reads, “Psychologically impacted means without limitation that the real property was or was at any time suspected to have been the site of a homicide, suicide, or felony.”
The word “material” is pretty clear when it comes to real estate. The word “psychological,” not so much.
In a 2016 story out of “Realtor Magazine,” a real estate agent in Omaha, Nebraska turned one of his listings into a marketing opportunity. Instead of focusing on the renovated kitchen or great location, he instead promoted the home’s haunted reputation. But the owners ended up taking it off the market before it sold, saying the hauntings had taken a sudden violent turn and they were getting out quick and turning it into a rental. Which leads to another question, do renters get their deposit back if they see a ghost? As for the creative real estate agent, he did say his marketing strategy was getting a lot of attention before they decided not to sell.
Some of the paranormal experts the writers interviewed for the story said there are people that really don’t mind living with ghosts. And according to the Ackley’s son-in-law, even they didn’t mind the ghosts so much. “They felt they were benevolent and looked after the family.”
Sources: Arkansas Real Estate Commission, Arkansas Bar Association, Haunted Real Estate Blog, Realtor Magazine and the National Association of Realtors
PHOTO CAPTIONS: Haunted properties around Arkansas
1. If the presence of a ghost resides in a home, should property owners disclose this information when selling that property? Delve into the topic of paranormal happenings and how they align with property owners laws. The well-known Allen House located in Monticello, Arkansas is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a 1949 suicide. (Photo courtesy of Mason Toms)
2. The Allen House - Monticello, Arkansas
Joe Allen, who had the house built, was a very successful business man. Allen, his wife and their three daughters lived in the home until 1949 when his daughter, Ladell committed suicide by drinking cyanide. Not long after her death, Joe decided to move the family to a different location. However, Ladell was left in the house. The home was sectioned into apartments and remained a rental property. Tenants began seeing strange things and experiencing paranormal activity not long after they moved in. The story of Ladell grew into urban legend, and the Allen house was declared haunted by both residents and locals. (Photo courtesy of Mason Toms)
3. Walter-Curran-Bell-House - Little Rock, Arkansas
The Walter-Curran-Bell-House was built by Colonel Ebenezer Walters for his young bride, Mary Eliza Starbuck Walters. Mary Walters died in childbirth before the completion of the estate, and the Colonel sold it shortly thereafter. Since then, the home has had many owners. In 1996, the Walters-Curran-Bell House was sold to the city and became Visitor Center at Historic Curran Hall. However, following the death of Mary Walters in 1843, several people who lived in the house over the years have experienced her presence. One resident painted the interior black in hopes of communicating with the “ghost.” The Visitor Center staff has experienced unusual happenings as well. (Photo by Cait Smith)
4. The Hornibrook House - Little Rock, Arkansas
The original owner, James H. Hornibrook, built the mansion in 1888. Legend has it Hornibrook always had a card game going in the tower room so he could watch for raids on his business. He died shortly after the home’s completion. The mansion stood vacant after the Depression until 1948 when it became a nursing home. It then became a private residence and apartments until 1994 when it became The Empress and was restored to its original glory. However, the Empress has a history of unexplained occurrences and paranormal encounters by owners and guests, including voices, apparitions, and unexplained sights and sounds. (Photo courtesy of Mason Toms)