Stigmatized Properties and the California Disclosure Law
If you’ve located your dream home, you might not be bothered by the thought that someone might have died there. On the other hand, because of your culture or other beliefs, it may be a deal-breaker for you. Death presents a major issue for some buyers, and California, Alaska and South Dakota are among the growing number of states with laws that require home sellers to reveal certain information to all potential buyers. In California, sellers must reveal if any death has occurred in the residence at anytime in the past three years. And if a buyer comes out and asks about death specifically, even longer than three years ago, the seller is required to disclose what they know. In Alaska and South Dakota, only murders or suicides must be disclosed and only if they happened within the past year.
If you’re curious about how these laws work, and who they impact, read on to learn more:
Disclosure and Stigmatized Properties
When real estate agents and their clients think about disclosure, usually they think of structural issues, such as lead-based paint, asbestos, or a cracked foundation. Stigmatized property is property which buyers or tenants may shun for reasons that are unrelated to the physical condition or features. Stigmatization can be hard to prove, but it can have equally significant impact on the home’s marketability. Situations like murder, suicide, a serious illness such as AIDS, and belief that a house is haunted can impact how the house is valued on the market.
California Civil Code Section 1710.2
Under California Civil Code Section 1710.2, if someone dies on the property, it’s considered a material defect – but only if the death occurred within three years of the date you make an offer to purchase or rent the home. Technically, if the property was the location of a mass murder in 1975, the seller, lessor, agent or broker does not legally have to volunteer the information.
CCCS 1710.2 makes an exception for deaths caused by AIDS. Federal law classifies AIDS as a disability, so disclosure of someone’s death due to this cause is considered discriminatory. California law also provides that if you actually ask the seller or lessor about deaths that may have occurred on the property, the owner can’t lie. The California Association of Realtors recommends that their agents come clean if questioned, no matter how long ago the death occurred. This doesn’t hold true for AIDS-related deaths, however.
What are Your Options?
If you’re a buyer and are concerned about a death in the home or how it may affect the resale value, ask the listing agent to disclose that information. If the listing agent doesn’t know, you can use a service like DiedinHouse.com, which will investigate further.
You still have recourse if you purchase or rent a property, move in, then discover later that someone died there within the last three years. California allows you to file a lawsuit against the seller, lessor, his agent or broker – or even your own agent or broker broker – for failure to disclose. Typically, these lawsuits seek recompense for the difference in price between what you purchased or leased the property for, and what it would have been worth if the seller had disclosed the death.
One major issue is that a material defect such as a death isn’t as easy to prove as a physical one, and it can be a challenge to assess the difference in property value. However, professional death scene cleanup can help mitigate some of the stigma associated with the property. Aftermath Services even provides a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee, plus a certificate of treatment which you can present to buyers, showing that the home is free of any biohazards associated with the death.
If a death has impacted your property’s value, or you’re worried that undisclosed biohazards such as blood might impact your family’s health, contact Aftermath Services at 877-872-4339 for a no-obligation estimate and find out what biohazard cleanup can do for you.