A homeowner in Pennsylvania is suing a real estate agent and the previous homeowner because of a murder and suicide that occurred in the home that was not disclosed before the purchase.
Janet Milliken, 59, bought the home in Thornton, PA in 2007 for $610,000 and learned from a neighbor a few weeks later that tragedy had struck there a year before. She claims fraud and misrepresentation on the part of the agent and seller, stating in court documents the defendants made a "deliberate choice not to disclose the home's recent past".
Because Pennsylvania law does not require such disclosure, the lower court sided with the agent and seller. Milliken is appealing the ruling.
It's one of the more uncomfortable questions a buyer might ask and in fact, most buyers don't even go there.
Known as a stigmatized property, when there's a history of tragedy in the home disclosure of that tragedy varies from state to state.
Luckily, the vast majority of homes for sale have nothing more interesting in their past than normal family life, but in Massachusetts the home buyer is entitled by law to an honest answer about a disturbing history,"if" they ask. And the "if" is key.
Real estate agents are under no obligation to initiate discussion of a stigmatized past, but if the home buyer inquires, the agent must disclose the history to the best of his or her knowledge. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the agent to do the homework when working through a listing with the seller.
There has been confusion about this disclosure since 1998 when Massachusetts passed H. 2099, which ensures the right to privacy for families of suicide victims. So the law governing stigmatized property disclosure intersects that family's right to privacy with the new owner's right to know what they are getting into.
For her part, Milliken is seeking to instigate change in Pennsylvania so that home buyers there have the same protections we have in Massachusetts.
On Cape Cod and elsewhere in the Bay State, take comfort in knowing that if you inquire about the possibility of an unsettling history in a home, your realtor is required by law to give it to you straight.