Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Legally haunted

Have you ever heard of the New York Supreme Court Case, Stambovsky v. Ackley?

I hadn't, until yesterday.

This came up because of a link someone sent me to an article called "There’s A House That’s So Terrifying It Was Legally Declared Haunted By New York State."  And my question, of course, was "what does it mean to be 'legally haunted'?"  If a ghost shows up in a house that is not legally declared to be haunted, do you have the right to call the police and have it arrested?  If so, how could you send a ghost to jail, when according to most people, ghosts can pass through walls, not to mention steel bars?

Be that as it may, the story centered around a house owned by a family named Ackley in Nyack, New York, a town on the Hudson River.  Soon after the Ackleys moved in, they began to have odd experiences, the most alarming of which is that family members reported waking up having their beds violently shaken by an invisible entity.  According to the article, they "learned to live with the spirits," which became easier when one of them apparently figured out that all they had to do to stop the sudden awakenings was to ask the ghosts not to shake their beds during the night.

Which I thought was pretty doggone amenable of the spirits, until I read the next part, wherein a young guest showed up to visit the Ackleys and died immediately of a brain aneurysm [emphasis theirs].  So that's not very nice.  There were also footsteps, slamming doors, and "gifts for the children [left] randomly through the house."  So you can see that with gifts on one end of the spectrum and brain aneurysms on the other, the haunting turned out to be quite a mixed bag.

The Ackley House, courtesy of Google Maps

Anyhow, all of this is your ordinary, garden-variety haunted house story until the Ackleys had enough and decided to sell the house.  The buyers, a family named Stambovsky, purchased it, but it turned out that the Ackleys didn't mention the fact that it was haunted by brain-aneurysm-inducing ghosts.  When they found out the house's reputation, the Stambovskys objected, understandably enough, and sued.  The case went all the way to the New York Supreme Court, where the judge sided with the Stambovskys.  The ruling said:
Where, as here, the seller not only takes unfair advantage of the buyer's ignorance but has created and perpetuated a condition about which he is unlikely to even inquire, enforcement of the contract (in whole or in part) is offensive to the court's sense of equity.  Application of the remedy of rescission, within the bounds of the narrow exception to the doctrine of caveat emptor set forth herein, is entirely appropriate to relieve the unwitting purchaser from the consequences of a most unnatural bargain...  Seller who had undertaken to inform the public at large about the existence of poltergeists on the premises to be sold was estopped to deny existence of poltergeists on the premises, so the house was haunted as a matter of law and seller must inform the purchaser of the haunting.
I wondered about how exactly a purchaser could demonstrate that a house was, in fact, haunted.  After all, that's usually what most failure-to-disclose lawsuits usually turn on; you find that the house you just bought has a leaky roof, and show that the previous owners knew about the leaky roof -- but along the way it's incumbent upon you to demonstrate that the roof does, in fact, leak.  How are you going to do that with a ghost?

But upon reading the ruling more carefully, apparently the decision was based upon the fact that the Ackleys themselves had made public the fact that they thought the house was haunted.  So I guess it's their fault for bragging about their ghosts and then deciding not to tell the purchasers before the contract was signed.

You have to wonder, though, if this might be something that should appear on disclosure statements under "Known Pre-existing Conditions," along with leaks, dry rot, damaged windows, broken appliances, and faulty septic systems.  "Ghosts/poltergeists present" -- yes/no/unknown.  "Ghosts that result in death by aneurysm" -- yes/no/unknown.

The article ends by giving us the address of the house in Nyack, but asking us not to go there. "Respect the current owner’s privacy by admiring it only from your screen," they tell us.  Which does bring up the interesting point of who bought the house after the Supreme Court allowed the Stambovskys to back out of the purchase, and whether the new owners have had any weird experiences or untimely deaths.  The article on the legal case (linked above) said that in 2015 the house sold for $1.77 million -- which was, they said, $600,000 higher than comparable houses in Nyack.

So maybe the Stambovskys should have stuck with it, ghosts and all.  Apparently disembodied spirits of the dead do nothing to diminish home value.  I know I'd happily sell my house for a cool $1.77 million.  I'd even sign a disclosure agreement admitting that it's haunted, and I don't even believe in ghosts.

1 comment:

  1. Gord, this is as ridiculous as the judge ruling that the sellers didn't disclose the impossibility of a proper feng shui state due to the orientation of the house and the prevailing NW wind currents.

    It's hard to imagine it made it as far as the Supreme Court, let alone was decided in favour of the buyer.