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Seller Need Not Disclose A Murder On The Property

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Does a home seller have to tell a buyer of a murder on the property?

It was only after Catrina McGhaw moved into a rental property that she found out about a serial killer who'd lived there and committed some or all of the murders in the basement. She moved out, arguing the landlord, aka the killer's mother, knew and should have disclosed it.

But the landlord wasn't legally obligated to do so.

McGhaw wasn't buying the property, but even if she were, the landlord still wouldn't have had to tell her.

While home sellers have to fill out disclosure forms that tell potential buyers of material defects in the property, a death in the house usually isn't one of those material defects that a seller is legally obligated to disclose.

The requirements vary by state, so in California, a seller has to disclose a death that occurred on the property within the last three years, but other than that, there are no states that require a seller to disclose the death of a person who died from natural causes on the property. That said, some states like Texas require disclosure of a death that is the result of a violent crime or problem with the house that caused death, and still others require disclosure of a "stigmatized" property - a property without a physical defect but where the value may have been diminished by something icky - like a suicide or claims it's haunted.

But, in most states, sellers have to answer honestly if they're asked a question about its history.

So if you notice shackles in the basement, you should ask.

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