THE UNWELCOME HOUSE GUEST
With Hallowe’en just round the corner, thoughts turned to haunted houses. What is the position in the UK if someone unwittingly found themselves to be the proud new owner of the property of their dreams …. with additional ghostly guests? Whether a house is or is not haunted is not something that is likely to be revealed during a viewing on a property and it is not a question currently raised in the standard property enquiries on the purchase of a property. However, as consumer protection laws become more rigid, although the legal principle of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) still stands, the law now provides that a seller should volunteer information about anything relating to the property that may adversely affect its value or the buyer’s future enjoyment of it. Obviously, in some circumstances it may be difficult to decide what would or would not be regarded as something that a seller should have reported to a buyer prior to a sale and certainly in the case of a possible haunted house this has not so far been tested in the UK courts.
Therefore if a buyer has any specific concerns in relation to any aspect of a property then a direct question should be raised with the seller. Although the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 does not refer to haunted houses specifically, the Act ensures that a seller should not make false or misleading statements and a seller would fall foul of the Act if, in our example, they claimed that a house was not haunted when they did not believe that to be the case.
In the United States, they take their haunted houses far more seriously and in 1991 a purchaser of a property successfully challenged the seller who had not advised that the property was haunted. The seller was obliged to find another buyer for the property.
To be on the safe side, if a buyer has any specific concerns in relation to any aspects of a property then appropriate enquiries should be raised with the seller prior to the purchase. On a more positive note, some aspects of a house purchase are more easily discovered by a potential purchaser - the existence of skeletons in the cupboard, bats in the loft and even pumpkins in the garden are likely to be revealed with a viewing on a property or a survey prior to exchange of contracts.