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The House That New York State Legally Declared Haunted

According to the law, this house is crammed full of ghosts.

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockOct 31 2022, 17:07 UTC
A house on the seafront that, to be fair to it, definitely looks haunted.
To be fair, it does look quite haunted. Image credit:

Among the many considerations that people apparently take into account when buying a house are "how bad is the traffic during peak commuter hours" and "am I going to be hounded out of the place by an unholy poltergeist from hell?".

Surveys have shown that people are actually put off buying a house if it is reported to be haunted, even though ghosts aren't real and (more often than not) turn out to have a perfectly rational explanation. One such survey found that about a third of people are willing to buy a "haunted" house, though around 85 percent would expect a large discount on the asking price. An analysis of the UK market found that people selling supposedly haunted houses had to drop prices by about 17 percent in order to make a sale.

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So, do sellers have to disclose if their houses are full of paranormal entities that can't exist according to any scientific theory? Well, in some cases, yes they do, as one seller discovered when they were sued for not disclosing supposed paranormal activity at their property in New York.

In the 1970s, Helen and George Ackley moved into a house in Nyack, New York, which they then "discovered" was haunted. Over the next three decades, the couple claimed that every morning they were woken by the bed shaking on its own and that they sighted a ghost. Despite the hauntings being no more significant than a wobbly bed, the house became notorious in the neighborhood and even ended up being featured in Readers' Digest. When they decided to sell the house in 1990 (a rare 20-year-on "nope"), they chose not to let the new buyer know this information.

One option is to lean into your haunted status.

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When Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky, the out-of-towners who bought the property, discovered that the house was supposedly haunted, they attempted to back out of the deal. At this point, the Ackleys attempted to keep their deposit, leading to the Stambovskys suing. 

"Plaintiff, to his horror, discovered that the house he had recently contracted to purchase was widely reputed to be possessed by poltergeists, reportedly seen by defendant seller and members of her family on numerous occasions over the last nine years," the unusual court case summary reads.

In its ruling, New York State asserted that the "haunting" – due to its public nature – affected the resale value of the property, and so should have been disclosed to the buyer. The Stambovskys were considered to have done their due diligence, despite not having checked for ghosts prior to placing their deposit.

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"The unusual facts of this case, as disclosed by the record, clearly warrant a grant of 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 summation reads, before getting to the really weird part: declaring the house legally haunted. 

"Not being a 'local', plaintiff could not readily learn that the home he had contracted to purchase is haunted. Whether the source of the spectral apparitions seen by defendant seller are parapsychic or psychogenic, having reported their presence in both a national publication (Readers' Digest) and the local press (in 1977 and 1982, respectively), defendant is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted."

In what was clearly an attempt to make the case even more wacky, the court went on to quote the theme tune from Ghostbusters.

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"From the perspective of a person in the position of plaintiff herein, a very practical problem arises with respect to the discovery of a paranormal phenomenon: "Who you gonna' call?" as a title song to the movie "Ghostbusters" asks," the document reads.

"Applying the strict rule of caveat emptor [the buyer is responsible for checking the quality of goods prior to purchase] to a contract involving a house possessed by poltergeists conjures up visions of a psychic or medium routinely accompanying the structural engineer and Terminix [a pest control company] man on an inspection of every home subject to a contract of sale. It portends that the prudent attorney will establish an escrow account lest the subject of the transaction come back to haunt him and his client — or pray that his malpractice insurance coverage extends to supernatural disasters. 

In the interest of avoiding such untenable consequences, the notion that a haunting is a condition which can and should be ascertained upon reasonable inspection of the premises is a hobgoblin which should be exorcised from the body of legal precedent and laid quietly to rest."

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Generally in the US, you do not have to disclose hauntings when you are selling your house, particularly if these "hauntings" are private to you and you haven't, for instance, informed the local press. However, in many states, you may have to declare houses that are "stigmatized" in a way that may affect resale value. These are houses where, despite possibly being fine in all other ways, stigmatizing events such as murders, deaths or criminal activity have taken place. It is in these circumstances, where the house is known about by others – say you were trying to sell The Amityville Horror house – that not disclosing the information could come back to bite you, due to the effect it has on the resale value of the property.

It of course varies from state to state, and there is no solid rule on whether to declare Casper in the statue books. In California, sellers are required to disclose deaths on the property that took place within the last few years. In others, you do not have to disclose this information if you are not asked.

But you might want to cover all bases and mention that your house is full of ghosts, if only to alert the new homeowners that they definitely want to get carbon monoxide levels checked pronto.


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