When you purchased your home, you had probably carefully considered several houses. As you walked through the properties, you likely opened cabinets, inspected appliances and scrutinized the structure. You also asked the real estate agent or seller many, many questions.
Nevertheless, after sealing the deal and moving in, you soon learned that your new home has a dark past. Although the seller did not include it in the disclosure statement, your new house was the scene of a death. Incidents like this can classify a property as stigmatized.
How does a house become stigmatized?
Stigmatized properties are those that may have no material defects, but buyers like you may reject because of events or circumstances that may have taken place at the location, such as:
- A murder
- A suicide
- Criminal activity
- Alleged hauntings
- A contagious illness
- Any death
AIDS illnesses and deaths are exceptions to this rule. Federal law considers AIDS a disability, so no real estate agent or seller must disclose that someone suffered or died from AIDS on the property.
Does it really matter?
To some, the events that stigmatize a house may have little effect on their decision to purchase or on the price they are willing to pay. For you, the fact that someone died, perhaps violently, may have a tremendous impact on your decision. You may have religious convictions or personal beliefs that would make it impossible for you to live peacefully in a house with such a history. On a practical level, you may also be concerned about your ability to resell a stigmatized property.
In California, the laws for disclosure of certain stigmatizing factors are pretty clear. For example, an agent or seller must tell you if someone died in the house within the past three years. If you ask about deaths further back in history, they must tell you. If they don't tell you, and you unknowingly purchase a stigmatized house, you have the right to seek compensation.
Has someone taken advantage of you?
Even if no one died in the house you purchased, there still may be material defects about which the seller or the seller's agent did not tell you. If you took possession of the property and then discovered plumbing issues, mold or other defects that would have changed your mind about the purchase or price of the property, you may be a victim of fraud, and you may want to do something about it.
An attorney with decades of practice in real estate law has likely seen many instances of nondisclosure and fraud. Agents or sellers who misrepresent property to unsuspecting buyers breach a trust upon which buyers depend. Having an experienced attorney on your side will ensure that you have an advocate who will stand up for your rights against such unscrupulous parties.