A Spooky House, the Law and You

by Diane Dimond on June 10, 2013


Got Ghosts?

Anyone out there live in a haunted house? It might seem like a silly question but as home sales pick up you should know there are laws against selling a house without full disclosure.

A seller is required to reveal a number of things about their home. Like the condition of roof shingles or whether they have had issues with termites, persistent leaks or radon gas.

Now, in a growing number of states the seller must also report suspected poltergeist problems.

Seen an Apparition in Your House?

Think you’ve seen ghosts in the hallway? Do objects in the home mysteriously move from place to place or have you seen furniture levitating off the floor? How about hearing odd and spooky noises in the dead of night?

I know, who wants to admit to total strangers (let alone a real estate agent) that they think their house is haunted? But, there is case law on the books about the issue and if the buyer suddenly gets freaked out about spirit shenanigans in their newly purchased home they could decide to go to court to try to get their money back.

The professionals in real estate call these houses, “stigmatized properties” and about half of all states have laws regulating their sales, according to the National Association of Realtors. The history of stigmatized places varies and can include murders, suicides or people with certain diseases who died in the home.

Worrisome histories can cause buyers to shy away for fear the place might be haunted. And the Association of Realtors says it happens more often than you’d think.

Ackley House in Nyack, New York

The most documented case of buyer’s remorse occurred in 1990 in the village of Nyack, New York. Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky decided to buy a big, beautiful $650,000 Victorian home nestled near the Hudson River. They plunked down $32,500 as a deposit.

Helen Ackley, the owner of the four bedroom, two bathroom property had decided to retire to Florida and when she put up the house for sale she failed to inform the buyers about her ghostly tenants. Neither did her real estate agent.

Helen Ackley Died in Fla. at Age 77

To be fair, Ackley had openly talked about the benevolent spirits who had occupied space with her family over the years. The information was out there. The elderly woman had described her ghost’s activities in detail – how they left gifts around the house, once helped her decide what color to paint a room and shook her bed each morning to awaken her – to the local newspaper. In fact Ackley’s story of poltergeists appeared three times in the paper between 1977 and 1989. She had also given a detailed interview for an article in Reader’s Digest. The home was even featured as part of a walking tour of “haunted houses” in Nyack.

Nyack – Just 30 Miles North of Manhattan

After a local resident met the visiting Stambovskys and said, “Oh, you’re buying the haunted house?” the couple wanted to back out of the deal. They lived 30 miles south in New York City and had no knowledge of the folklore about the house. The couple did not appear at the signing, which meant they forfeited their down payment, but they were no longer obligated to buy the house. Mrs. Ackley, in no hurry to get to Florida, would not cancel the sale or return the buyer’s money so they all headed to court.

The case took a while to resolve. The Stambovsky’s lost the first round after a lower court ruled it was their obligation to research the history of the home before committing to buy. But the New York Appellate Court ultimately ruled in the couple’s favor. The point of the story is, of course, is that it is far better to be upfront about suspected paranormal activity in your home than to keep it a secret. You could be tied up in court for years!

This Qualifies as ‘Stigmatized Property’

Some states have a long list of stigmas that must be reported. They range from violent deaths, suicides and sex crimes to drug activity – specifically drug manufacturing at the location since the chemicals used could seep into the walls or foundation.

In California, for example, a seller is bound to answer the buyer’s question about any deaths that occurred in the home. Illinois statutes state that since ghosts would not have an effect on the “physical condition” of the home they do not need to be disclosed. In New Jersey, on the other hand, real estate agents and sellers are specifically required to disclose, “Psychological impairments” inherent in a property – and yes, that includes the fact that it purports to be haunted. The same holds in Hawaii where the culture of spirituality and respect for the land require full paranormal disclosure.

37% of Americans Believe in Haunted Houses

In the last Gallup poll that asked the question “Do you believe that houses can be haunted?” 37% of Americans said yes. 32% agreed that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations. So take heart, if you tell a potential buyer your place comes with unexplainable cold spots, creaky nighttime sounds, and floating apparitions you might not shock them at all. Some buyers are actively looking for just such properties. Back in the day the magician The Amazing Kreskin was interested in buying the Ackley house. But then a team of paranormal investigators reported that the ghosts inside the old Victorian told them it wasn’t much fun haunting the house without Helen Ackley in it. Someone else bought it – fully aware of its controversial history – and there have been no more public reports of hauntings ever since.



{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

CLS June 10, 2013 at 3:16 am

I almost started laughing when I read this article. After all, I have no such superstitious beliefs. Then I remembered the problem my family will have when we sell our home. My older brother died 1-1/2 years ago, from pancreatic cancer. He wanted his hospice care to be in the home where he grew up, and the family honored his wish. Now, we’ve learned we will have to make potential buyers aware he died at home. As a result, I’m unpleasantly aware of this predicament.


Diane Dimond June 10, 2013 at 11:27 am

Ask your realtor, Dave. Your particular state law may say you only have to reveal past deaths IF ASKED. ~ dd


Diane Dimond June 10, 2013 at 11:11 am

ABQ Journal Reader Sheri S. Tepper writes:

“The lady in your column, Helen Ackley, may have had a friendly ghost leaving gifts, though I’d bet on a secret admirer. She may have had one wake her each morning by shaking her bed, but I’d bet on a large truck going by in the alley on its daily run somewhere. As for helping her decide on the color of her room, I’d love to know about that one. Did it appear in the correctly colored aura?

Whatever it was, it wasn’t a poltergeist. There are various races of ghosts, but the poltergeist doesn’t wake people, leave gifts, or give decorating tips. The word means “Noisy ghost,” and that’s what poltergeists do. They make noise. Loud noise. Cracking sounds. Breaking sounds. Like whips or gunshots or falling mirrors. And, perhaps not surprisingly, they appear mostly in houses where there are teen aged children. (Honest! Look them up. Ghost hunters think adolescent angst may evoke them.)

My husband is a realtor. We got a kick out of the column.”


Diane Dimond June 10, 2013 at 11:13 am

ABQ Journal Reader LE writes:

“That was a wonderful editorial you wrote for today’s ABQ Journal. I am a fan of yours. Le”


Diane Dimond June 10, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Twitter Pal drkmagneto writes:

“@DiDimond If they’re really active ghosts, you won’t have to tell them!”


Diane Dimond June 10, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Dear Drkmagneto:

The point is: its the LAW in several states that if you suspect you have a haunted house you MUST disclose that to any prospective buyer! ~DD


Diane Dimond June 14, 2013 at 11:44 am

Huffington Post Reader November Rose writes:

“Actually, with all the renewed interest in the paranormal, I’d think “haunted houses” would be a hot item, and easy to sell. Lots of people out there looking for that kind of chilling thrill. Although I believe in spirits’ capacity to visit from another realm, I don’t necessarily believe they hang around to haunt houses or torment their occupants.”


Diane Dimond June 14, 2013 at 11:46 am

Huffington Post Reader Dan Crabtree writes:

” I sold three old Victorians i restored in the eighties and at the same time lived in three of these homes as well..Haunted? well yeah, two were with-out a doubt haunted. The other one not so much. but in all cases the haunting started when i started the restoration…they do not like your disturbing their former home and will let you know..how-ever in all cases, after I finished bringing the home back to its original state all ghostly noises disappeared as well…they evidently liked my remodeling.”


Diane Dimond June 14, 2013 at 11:46 am

Huffington Post Reader wallytokai writes:

“Buyers need to inform themselves — a good site to help with this is http://www.housecreep.com


Diane Dimond June 14, 2013 at 11:49 am

Huffington Post Reader ColoradoBMan writes:

“Growing up in Denver at around 6 or 7 it was not known to me such things as “ghost”; well at least in the real sense. Sure I went trick-o’-treating but that was all “make believe”. The house was kinda spooky to begin with and was relatively old. The basement was kinda the creepiest, it had sections and levels and an odd room that had, what appeared to me, to be a concrete box (probably more like a coffin). There was a bathroom on the main level before you went out the backdoor that was kinda musty…the smell never left no mater how much it was cleaned. Just outside was an access door to one of the levels in the basement…I think that added a little bit to the spookiness of the house.

I think it was about 6 mos of living there that attention was paid towards the odd sounds. Not radiator creeks, and moans but sounds. Then there were images of people. A family of 4 began to appear at the foot of my bed, and they would just stand there many nights I’d wake-up terrified and run up stairs to my sisters. When my brother was able to board with me and we got a bunk bed I would often slide down the wall and lie with him. In the beginning I though maybe I was imagining things until my brother woke-up and asked if I saw the people.(continued)….”


Diane Dimond June 14, 2013 at 11:50 am

I have reached out to ColoradoBMan to finish his story….I’m fascinated to hear the rest! I will eagerly post his continued story if he writes back. ~ DD


Diane Dimond June 14, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Hey, Readers! ColoradoBMan has sent the “continued” part of his story….Here it is! Fascinating!


“But before my brother I’d head for my sisters room and lie in her bed, I’d freeze and she’d pee the bed (almost a symbiotic relationship), there was a lady who would come in, which was more tolerable, but she would just pass through…sometimes into the closet and sometimes out the window. My sister didn’t say much about her, she called her by her name but don’t remember, she said she came in every night…which explained all the pee stains and my dads frustration. Dad would tell us later that the house was haunted (and by then we knew what it meant) and that it scared him too, which explains why nothing was ever stored in the basement…just on the landing.

He finally told us the story of the house as told to him by our landlords, coincidentally Mrs. Juanita was my teacher, but what was told to my dad reassured why were were moving. Apparently there was a family that lived there and at that time divorce was not a common thing (till death do you part was taken seriously I guess) so their separation was in the house. She was ousted to the upstairs while the man converted the downstairs to include a bedroom (my room) and a bathroom. I guess that at some point she brought someone home and in a rage the man shot his “wife” and the man (he was shot in my sisters room-closet while she, the wife, was shot in her closet); the husband hung himself in my room. Months would pass before they were found….the only thing never explained was where the kids came from…that maybe because of how young we were to my dad kept that away but who knows?

We were told late that the “access” panel to the crawl space, which always gave me an eerie feeling, may contained the remains of his children. The concrete “thingy” was said to be a make shift sarcophagus in which the husband was already planning his wife’s demise but I don’t know. My dad talks about it every once in awhile and we’ll reminisce but we always shudder at the thought…

Whether or not it was true I’ll never know, but my Dad, like all Dads, very seldom opens up about their fears; but knowing this house scared my Dad brings a little credence to the story.

Best Regards,



Diane Dimond June 14, 2013 at 11:53 am

Huffington Post Reader JP boi writes:

” I call Spirit Shenanigans!!!”


JP boi June 17, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story. Ghost stories are always entertaining. My grandmother told my mother that after her husband died, she felt him sit on the bed next to her. Thinking it was her son, she spoke to him, only to hear his response from the other room. Occasionally I’ll watch the Ghost Hunters and enjoy hearing any EVPs they might capture! Sometimes though they are a bit disturbing. Ultimately, I would want to know if a house I was interested in buying, was haunted.
I wouldn’t want to live in a haunted house!!


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