By DAVID LEE
(CN) – The sellers of homes do not have to disclose “psychological stigmas,” such as murders, to prospective buyers, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled.
The state’s highest court unanimously ruled Monday in favor of Kathleen and Joseph Jacono regarding the sale of their Delaware County house in 2007 for $610,000.
The buyer, Janet Milliken, sued the couple for failing to disclose that a previous owner, Konstantinos Koumboulis, killed himself and his wife in the house in February 2006. Miliken said she learned of the deaths from a neighbor after she moved in from California.
She sued for fraud, negligent misrepresentation and violations of state consumer protection laws. The trial court later tossed the suit, holding the Jacanos had no duty to disclose the deaths and that they made no misrepresentation of material fact to support the claims.
Writing for the state Supreme Court, Justice J. Michael Eakin agreed with the lower court that the deaths were not material facts that should have been disclosed. He noted that “the varieties of traumatizing events” that could happen at a property “are endless.”
“Efforts to define those that would warrant mandatory disclosure would be a Sisyphean task,” the eight-page opinion stated. “One cannot quantify the psychological impact of different genres of murder, or suicide – does a bloodless death by poisoning or overdose create a less significant ‘defect’ than a bloody one from a stabbing or shooting? How would one treat other violent crimes such as rape, assault, home invasion, or child abuse? What if the killings were elsewhere, but the sadistic serial killer lived there? What if satanic rituals were performed in the house?”
Although such events would disturb most people and make them not want to live in the house, the tragic events are not defects in the structure itself, Eakin said.
“The occurrence of a tragic event inside a house does not affect the quality of the real estate, which is what seller disclosure duties are intended to address,” the opinion stated. “We are not prepared to set a standard under which the visceral impact an event has on the populace serves to gauge whether its occurrence constitutes a material defect in property. Such a standard would be impossible to apply with consistency and would place an unmanageable burden on sellers, resulting in disclosures of tangential issues that threaten to bury the pertinent information that disclosures are intended to convey.”
If anything, the passage of time may make such events “historical curiosities” that “may even increase the value of the property,” Eakin suggested.