Fellow @BoardingArea blogger Angelina, aka Just Another Points Traveler, recently discussed her various unexplained encounters and mysteries she’s experienced first hand in her post Let’s Talk About Haunted Hotels.

Another @BoardingArea blogger and jet-setter extraordinaire Lucky, aka @OneMileataTime, posed a question to his readers in the past, “Would you stay at a haunted hotel?“, upon considering his own conundrum to do so or not at the the Grand Hyatt Taipei due to it being “built on used to be a political prison” and other nonphysical, yet quite disturbing, historical attributes.

My lawyer brain quickly turned from thoughts of some ghosts ‘n goblins turn-down service (eeek!) to does a hotel hold a duty to warn its guests?  Sure, to some a spooky B&B might even garner an added attraction.  But the enjoyment of your downtown, high-rise luxury hotel would be another story, especially from more spiritually, religious and/or paranormally inclined guests.

Some law school cases become instant “classics” and provide a much needed break from the Dead Man’s Act and the “rule in shelley’s case” discussion.

The issue: Whether a home seller has a duty to disclose the “haunted” (and non-latent?) qualities of a house, the property it sits on, or even past residents or events. One famous case of  a “stigmatized property” (which the National Association of Realtors has defined as “property psychologically impacted by an event which occurred or was suspected to have occurred on the property, such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind“) is that of Stambovsky v. Ackley, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672, 169 A.D.2d 254 (N. Y. A. D. 1st Dept., 1991), one most every law student will read and every lawyer who has earned a J.D. in the past 20+ years still has tucked into a (dark and scary) corner of his or her brain.

haunted hotel

“Who ya gonna call?” Photo Credit: Profound Whatever via Compfight cc

The story: After some nine years of acknowledged haunting of her and her family on numerous occasions by “poltergeists”, Ms. Ackley sold her house (an old Victorian mansion in Nyack, New York;  see the house here on Google Maps Streetview!) to the Mr. & Mrs. Stambovsky in 1990, without any disclosure of such known “defects” to the buyer, who sought to rescind the deal after discovering the history.  The facts of the case paint a clear picture of the “out of town buyers” who didn’t know the famous local lore, while the seller was certainly well aware, even to the point of Ms. Ackley giving interviews and tours of her home (the court points out that, “In 1989, the house was included in a five-home walking tour of Nyack and described in a November 27th newspaper article as ‘a riverfront Victorian (with ghost)’.“).

All I can picture is a Stephen King style scene of the buyer, sitting at a local diner, striking up a conversation with the waitress while she pours him a cup of joe, “…Oh, you mean the ‘ol’ Ackley mansion by the water!?”  Yet, the trial court was not so scared, dismissing the complaint, holding that plaintiff has no remedy at law in its jurisdiction.

However, the appellate court ruled in the Stambovskys’ favor in a narrow 3-2 decision in 1991.  What turned the court to side with the buyers and go against the grain of the caveat emptor defense?   That the undisclosed “history” of the mansion warranted the court to grant “equitable relief to the buyer who, as a resident of New York City, cannot be expected to have any familiarity with the folklore of the Village of Nyack.”  The court continued (my emphasis):

While I agree with Supreme Court that the real estate broker, as agent for the seller, is under no duty to disclose to a potential buyer the phantasmal reputation of the premises and that, in his pursuit of a legal remedy for fraudulent misrepresentation against the seller, plaintiff hasn’t a ghost of a chance, I am nevertheless moved by the spirit of equity to allow the buyer to seek rescission of the contract of sale and recovery of his downpayment (sic). New York law fails to recognize any remedy for damages incurred as a result of the seller’s mere silence, applying instead the strict rule of caveat emptor. Therefore, the theoretical basis for granting relief, even under the extraordinary facts of this case, is elusive if not ephemeral. 

The case goes on to quote Hamlet and (unsurprisingly?) reference Ghostbusters and its associated song by Ray Parker Jr., but I digress, and suggest you read it for yourself.

Similar cases examine what could be called the potential for haunting by some.  For example, in Reed v. King, 145 Cal.App.3d 261, 193 Cal.Rptr. 130 (Cal. App. 3d Dist., 1983), the court imposed a duty on the seller to disclose that a property had been the scene of a mass murder several years earlier, and again a court turns to Shakespeare to bring further life to its opinion. “However, it seems ‘truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long.’ (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene II.)

Some states have enacted legislation to provide guidance regarding the types of nonphysical or emotional defects that are or are not material. For example, Florida’s law stating a seller has no duty to disclose that “a property was, or was at any time suspected to have been, the site of a homicide, suicide, or death.”  Nevertheless, I am not aware of any cases or laws that impose a duty on a hotel to affirmatively warn or give notice to a guest of hauntings on the premises…or the possibility of such.

So until then, if you do find yourself lodging with the spirit kind, I recommend getting them to the hotel’s fitness room, as it may be your best bet to properly exorcise them! [rim shot]


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