Let’s say you’re a homeowner that keeps hearing footsteps up the stairs when nobody else is in the house, a specific painting keeps falling off the wall no matter how well you attach it, and you occasionally wake up with unexplained scratches on your arm. You’re probably going to call either a priest or a real estate agent.

There are too many horror movies to count that involve a family moving into a haunted house and the grisly torment they’re subsequently subjected to. Paranormal Activity, Amityville Horror, The Conjuring – all about families terrorized by malevolent spirits in their new homes, some even based on real life events. So is it illegal to sell someone a haunted house in New York?

There's Some Water Damage, A Few Shingles Are Loose, Oh, and There's This Nagging Restless Spirit...

This is the only "legally haunted" house in America, and the center of a famous New York lawsuit about ghosts and real estate

There’s actually a famous New York court case that deals with this very issue: the 1991 trial “Stambovsky v. Ackley.” Mr. Stambovsky, of New York City, was ready to buy the Nyack home of Ms. Ackley “as is.” He made his deposit, but then found out the home was famously haunted in local lore. The home had even been a feature in Readers’ Digest due to its unresting guests.

When asked, Ms. Ackley talked in depth to Mr. Stambovsky about how she and her family had seen various poltergeists in the home for decades. Stambovsky proceeded to ghost Ackley on closing day and serve her with a lawsuit for the return of his deposit.

Ghost Court, Judge Venkman Presiding

A judge and gavel

Stambovsky argued that no Nyack resident would purchase the haunted house, so Ms. Ackley and her realtor were trying to unload the property on an unsuspecting out-of-towner without full phantasm disclosure. Because of this supposed display of bad faith, he wanted all of his money back.

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The only thing more ridiculous than this case, was that it made its way to the New York Supreme Court in what is now-called the “Ghostbusters ruling.” First, by the Supreme Court having to rule on this case with the presumption of ghosts inside, this means the Nyack house is the only “legally haunted” house in America. Second, the court decided that hauntings fall under the property law doctrine of caveat emptor, AKA buyer beware.

Latin Phrases And Hauntings Are Never A Good Combo

A home inspector looking at a cartoon ghost

In addition to termite and foundation inspections, you should also hire a paranormal inspection team, because in New York its legal to sell a home without the seller disclosing that it’s haunted. New York’s Property Condition Disclosure Act only makes sellers legally admit this info about real estate up-front:

  • Building age
  • If the building is in a floodplain
  • Water or rot damage
  • Fire or smoke damage
  • Termite, insect, rodent, or pest infestation damage
  • Material defects

Notice: nothing about ghosts. Granted, under caveat emptor if you ask a seller if their house is haunted, they legally have to disclose their true feelings. But even if they say yes, they could hold back on how haunted without breaking the rule. Buyer beware, indeed.

Look Inside The House From Stambovsky v. Ackley

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