To avoid a lawsuit it is best to let buyers know whether a death has occurred on the property.
By:Mark WeislederReal Estate, Published on Fri Feb 15 2013
There are interesting legal issues about what should or shouldn’t be disclosed when a house is sold, including whether someone has died in the house.
A column last month about the topic prompted a lot of response, with many readers feeling that it is going too far to ask sellers to make this kind of disclosure.
Here are some reader questions:
Must I disclose a suicide on the property?
London lawyer Merv Burgard reminded me of a decade-old Quebec case. In May, 2003, Sylvie Knight bought a home from Marcel Dionne in Saint-Constant for $122,000. Dionne did not say that his son had committed suicide in the basement 10 years earlier. Knight sued, claiming that this should have been disclosed and she would not have bought the home if she had known that.
In a 2006 decision, Judge Gabriel de Pokomandy of the Court of Quebec Civil Division, found that the suicide did not need to be disclosed by the seller. Here is what he said:
“A death, suicide or even a murder in a house cannot be considered something the seller is obliged to disclose, just as there is no obligation to disclose domestic violence, trespass, births, marriages, baptisms, or other life events, whether happy or sad, that may have occurred there, unless there have been questions raised about these facts.”
In my opinion, the law continues to evolve, and it may in fact depend on who the buyer is. For example, the GTA may now have more languages spoken and cultures and communities living here than anywhere in the world. It could very well be that, for some of these cultures and communities, the fact of a murder or suicide could make it impossible for them to move into the home. Therefore, why not just disclose the matter up front and avoid any chance of a lawsuit occurring.
Must we need disclose a natural death?
Most lawyers will say no, you don’t have to. In my view, you should disclose it. It is likely to bother someone so why take a chance on a lawsuit later.
My spouse died in the hospital, was cremated and I sprinkled the ashes in the back yard. Must I disclose that?
When buyers do find out during the course of their home inspection that a death had occurred and was not disclosed, they are typically wary of the integrity of the seller regarding other matters.
Buyers, if you are concerned at all about any of these issues and do not trust a seller to make this disclosure, then insert a clause into your agreement whereby the seller represents that they are not aware of any deaths, suicides or murders ever occurring on the property. Also ask the neighbours if they know anything about the subject.
Mark Weisleder is a Toronto real estate lawyer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org