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So you bought a haunted house - Part 1

By Thomas D'Agostino

The title may sound a bit amusing, but to those who have actually bought or rented a house that is still tenanted by its former inhabitants, it can be a most frightening experience. Houses that are haunted can pass from one party to another many times without the thought or notion of there being a ghost or two. Sometimes the spirits lay dormant until something wakes them; perhaps it is renovations, or the aura of someone, or even a pet that may have something in common with that which still resides within the walls of the domicile.

This is not at all a new fad as haunted places have been penned into memoirs and journals for eons. Pliny The Younger (AD 62-c113) wrote of a villa in Athens that was haunted. Plato (427-347 BC) wrote that the sepulchers of his homeland were haunted and Plutarch (AD46-120) spoke of ghosts roaming the baths of Cheronea.

So, as you can see, throughout history one can peruse accounts of ghosts and haunts long before we began researching them in the name of the paranormal. But you do not have to go that far back in time to find accounts of people being frightened by spirits. In fact, a very interesting case appeared in the Connecticut Courant on August 32, 1813, involving a family that was sued for the remainder of their rent even though they had abandoned their lease based on the fact that the home they rented was haunted. 

Mr. Simers was sued by his landlord, Mr. Woolbridge, for rent owed despite being driven from the home by ghosts. The trial was heard before a jury. Simers, who refused to pay the rent, claimed the house was haunted and therefore “untenantable” by humans. Simers had taken possession of the home not knowing it was haunted but became suspicious when a candle on the mantle extinguished itself. Several attempts to relight the candle failed,  and, at one point, Simers was apprehended by the arm and violently turned around by an unseen force.

The family also claimed to have found human bones in the closets and other rooms about the house. Simers claimed that Woolbridge knew prior to renting the home that it was haunted. A few witnesses came forth and testified that they had observed a blue flame on the same mantelpiece where the candle was blown out. Although they could see the glow inside the home, it shone no light through the windows, attracting a number of neighbors to witness the spectacle.

The reputation of the house was known throughout the neighborhood as being haunted and therefore most likely to be uninhabitable by the living. The jury deliberated and came back with a fair decision that Simers pay ten dollars to Woolbridge for the time he and his family occupied the house.

Under Massachusetts’s law, real estate brokers and sellers are under no legal obligation to disclose that a property was the site of any paranormal or supernatural phenomenon (in other words, haunted). They are also not under any legal obligation to disclose that the home was the site of any felony, suicide or homicide. The same goes for Connecticut and most other states, for that matter. These homes are labeled as “stigmatized” and, although such incidents may have taken place, the seller is under no legal duty to disclose them unless, of course, the potential buyer asks. Even then, in some states, if the last incident had taken place three years prior to the house being put on the market, then it is not required by the seller to disclose the fact. Traditionally, the basic legal rule is “caveat emptor”-- or let the buyer beware.

Connecticut has what is termed the “ghost buster law,” which allows the seller not to be obliged to disclose to home buyers whether any occupant of their home has ever been infected with a reportable disease, or whether at any time the home was suspected to have been the site of a homicide, suicide, or a felony. Other problems, such as a haunting, are included in this statutory limitation.

So next time you go to buy a home, remember caveat emptor-- for you just might be buying adomus exspiravit.