Buying a home is the realization of a dream for many people in Southern California each and every year. Additionally, for a significant majority of people in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, and Ventura counties, the purchase of a home is the most significant investment they will make during the course of a lifetime. If you purchased a home in the not too distant past, you may recently have come to a startling realization. You may have learned that your home was the scene of a notorious death. You likely now wonder what recourse you may have if the seller never disclosed to you that fact that a notorious death of some sort occurred at the residence.
General Rule Regarding Seller’s Disclosure of a Death in a Residence to a Prospective Buyer
Realtors in these Southern California counties provide standard disclosure forms to be used by sellers when entering into a contract for sale with a buyer:
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
Real estate professionals utilize a standard set of forms that have been created using the mandates of California law. When it comes to disclosing a notorious death in a residence, the standard forms do not cover all possible scenarios.
In California, any death that occurred in a residence within a three-year time period before a real estate contract is entered into must be disclosed by a seller to a buyer. The standard forms mentioned a moment ago cover this type of situation. This requirement is in place whether or not a death is notorious.
There is one caveat to the automatic or mandatory death disclosure requirement. If a person died of complications from AIDS or an AIDS-related death, federal law kicks in. Federal law prohibits the disclosure of an AIDS-related death, including when a death would otherwise be required by California real estate law.
Other Death Disclosure Requirements Beyond the Automatic or Mandatory Advisements
There can be other circumstances in which a death should be disclosed by a seller to a buyer. Oftentimes, if a death is classified as notorious, that death should be disclosed by a seller to a buyer even after the three-year period expired.
The foundational reason why a notorious death needs to be disclosed is because it is an incident of such a nature that it is likely to have a material impact on a prospective buyer. Many individuals would have personal objections to living in a home where a notorious death of some type occurred. In addition, odds are the original seller didn’t disclose a notorious death for fear that this information would negatively impact the value of a property. As a buyer, you are now saddled not only with living in a home where a notorious death occurred, but you have to deal with the impact this situation potentially has on the property going forward in the future.
Cancellation of a Real Estate Contract for Sale
If you are at a juncture in which you’ve entered into a contract for sale, but the sale hasn’t been finalized or closed upon, you are in a position to cancel a sale. The only way in which a seller could object to such a cancellation is by contending the death was so notorious, any reasonable person should know of it.
In California, beyond the automatic disclosures, a seller doesn’t need to disclose something which a reasonable buyer should be aware of. When it comes to a notorious death, there are circumstances in which a death is notorious in a particular neighborhood, but perhaps not much beyond. On the other hand, there have been residential deaths in Southern California that are so notorious, a fair presumption can be made that any reasonable person knows of it. The infamous – and still notorious – Los Angeles area murders committed by the Charles Manson “family” are prime examples of these types of broadly notorious deaths.
Remedies After Title Has Transferred
Once title to the residence has transferred ownership from the seller to the buyer, as the buyer you have a limited scope of remedies for the failure of a seller to disclose a notorious death. Cancellation of the real estate contract is not at all likely to be one of those remedies. Rather, you may be able to obtain at least some financial compensation from the seller for any losses you an identify arising from the failure to disclose and the notorious death that occurred on the premises.
You may need to file a lawsuit to obtain compensation for your loss. A lawsuit would be filed in the particular county in which the real estate is located. Technically speaking, the case would be a lawsuit for real estate fraud. You have three years from the date you closed on the real estate sales contract or from the date you discovered the lack of disclosure (provided your failure not to learn of the disclosure sooner is reasonable.