Then For Now

Why New York State Legally Recognizes Haunted Houses

Illustration for article titled Why New York State Legally Recognizes Haunted Houses

You've probably never heard of the case Stambovsky v. Ackley. It isn't studied in high school nor will you come across it in your daily life. Unless, that is, you're in law school and studying property law. Or if you are buying a house in the state of New York. A haunted one.


The Case

In 1990, Helen Ackley put her house on sale in Nyack, New York. It, from all appearances, was a lovely building and attracted Patrice and Jeffrey Stambovsky. The Stambovskys agreed to buy the house for $650,000 and put down a $32,500 down payment. That is when they learned the bad news about their home: it was haunted.


The house had been infamous for years. It was featured in local ghost tours and even had an article written about it in Reader's Digest in 1977 titled "Our Haunted House on the Hudson." Needless to say, the Stambovskys were not very happy to hear the spooky notoriety surrounding, and apparently inhabiting, their house and brought Ackley to court.

In the first case, the judge ruled that Ackley was not at fault. However, the Stambovskys appealed the ruling and won another trial. The following is from the full appellate decision:

In an action seeking rescission of a contract to purchase a house widely reputed to be possessed by poltergeists, a grant of equitable relief is warranted where the buyer, not a "local" and unfamiliar with the local folklore, could not readily have learned that the home he had contracted to purchase was haunted.


Because Ackley, during the sale of the house, attempted to present it to buyers as "normal", she misled potential buyers. In the first case, the legal doctrine "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) was applied, implying that the Stambovskys were fully capable of discovering that the home was known to be haunted. However, in the appeal, Justice Rubin made a very good point, stating, "a very practical problem arises with respect to the discovery of a paranormal phenomenon: 'Who you gonna call?' as a title to the movie Ghostbusters asks." Yes, a judge quoted Ghostbusters, and to great effect.

Since it is rather impossible to gather experts together to confirm that a house is possessed by evil spirits, friendly ghosts, or pesky poltergeists, the New York State Supreme Court determined that it is the duty of a seller to inform buyers that a house is haunted. Thus, the government acknowledges that in New York that some structures are legally haunted.


This article was originally published on Yester and was written by Jeremy Shea.

photo credit: Sean MacEntee, Creative Commons/flickr

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