The Case that Shook (literally) Real Estate Law
In the late 1960s, George and Helen Ackley purchased a fixer-upper…a Victorian “mansion” located along the Hudson River in Nyack, New York. The home, which sat at 1 LaVeta Place, was about 20 miles north of New York City, and already had a reputation. As the Ackleys moved in, neighborhood children were sure to let the family know that the deteriorating Victorian was “haunted.”
The family shortly found out that there may actually be something to the children’s tales. Over the years, the family, most notably Helen, went through plenty of strange, poltergeist activities. In one tale that is often told, the daughter, Cynthia, was awakened every morning for school by someone shaking her bed. When Spring Break rolled around, she told the ghost that she would like to sleep in…and the bed did not shake. Other family members constantly received small gifts that materialized out of nowhere. Babies were given baby rings that disappeared as quickly as they appeared, and other gifts included silver tongs and plenty of coins. Fortunately, the family was able to peacefully coincide with their resident ghost(s) and lived rather happily.
In fact, Helen was so proud of her ghosts that she made no attempt to hide them. The haunted house was mentioned several times in the local newspaper, and Reader’s Digest also did a story on the home’s ethereal residents. The house was so well known that it even became a stop on a local ghost tour.
When property values declined and taxes increased in the late 1980s, Helen decided to sell the home, and move to a warmer climate. Luckily, even though the market was “soft” she did eventually find a buyer: Mr. Jeffrey Stambovsky and his wife, Patrice of New York City. They agreed to an asking price of $650,000 and put up a $32,000 down payment. And then…they heard the rumors about the house being haunted.
Although a skeptic, Stambovsky said the rumors made his wife nervous, and that the thought of ghost hunters and curiosity seekers traipsing through the property did not interest them. They backed out on the deal, but Helen refused to return the down payment. In retaliation, a civil suit was filed against her, and her real estate company, Ellis Realty, and a lower court actually ruled in her favor. It was deemed “caveat emptor,” or buyer beware. The house was sold “as is” and therefore, the Stambovsky’s were not entitled to anything for breaking the contract.
However, they appealed, and it was ruled in their favor on July 18, 1991. Since Helen did publicize the hauntings, the house, for the purposes of this case, was deemed “legally haunted,” and it was ruled that this fact should have been disclosed to potential buyers. Luckily, the same caveat that dissuades some, actually works in others’ favor. The house was sold in 1991 and Helen moved to Florida. She passed away in 2003.