A few years ago, living in California, I was the unfortunate neighbor of a man who was committing domestic violence against his wife. Screaming, shouting and worse could be heard through my walls all hours of the day and night and I ended up calling the police a couple of times. The domestic abuse didn’t continue long though before the man snapped. He got his gun, shot and killed his wife, then shot and killed himself. The couple’s teenage daughter found them when she returned from spending the night at her sisters. It was at this time, I learned the law about disclosing a death or murder in your house or apartment, if you live in California and plan on renting it out or selling it. And it wasn’t what I expected it to be.
You’d think if someone has died in your house or apartment and the death was due to something about the property then, sure, the property owner should have to disclose it to any would-be renters or buyers. If a murder takes place and it’s in a gang or drug-infested area, then sure, disclose that too. But for a one-off death or murder in a property that really had no connection to the cause of the death, others might think you don’t need to disclose it. Not in California.
In California, you are required to disclose any death or murder to prospective renters or buyers for three years after the death occurs. Regardless of the cause or the people involved.
According to California law, a death or murder in or on a property is part of something called a ‘material fact’, which means it’s something anyone who is planning on living or buying a certain house or apartment would want to know about. Some people just wouldn’t wish to live in a house where someone has died or been murdered recently. Others might be worried about re-sale value as, sometimes, a death in the house if common knowledge (which something as violent as a murder always is) can bring down the value of a house. That’s why the State of California says it’s their right to know.
This was the case for the landlady of the apartment next door to the one I was living in. she had no choice but to disclose facts about the murder. Even though the apartment had been completely repainted, the living room where the murder took place completely gutted, and a new hardwood floor and carpeting put in, renters still had to be told.
Surprising to me though, only two people came to look at the apartment and the second one rented it – quickly. A single mother with an eight year old girl, she was delighted everything was newly painted and shiny and, because of the murder, she even ended up with $100 a month reduction in rent.
She also dealt with the murder in a very matter of fact way. She was Catholic, so she called a priest, who came to the apartment and ‘blessed it’. During the rest of the time I lived in my apartment, she and her little girl lived there and she loved it. No bad feelings, no bad experiences and, most importantly, no ghosts.
So remember, if you own a house or apartment in California, in fact any kind of property, if a death or a murder has occurred on the premises within the last three years, you must disclose this to any potential renter or buyer. It is their right to know.If you don’t, you are holding yourself open to a potential lawsuit.
Disclosing a recent death in a house for sale is essential in California – Los Angeles Times