in Rockland County started going out of control, as had the property
values. Helen decided to sell the house in 1989. She wanted to move to
a warmer climate of Texas or Florida. It was a soft real estate
market, especially for expensive houses. The house sat on the market
for a while.
I moved my family out to Oregon
in the middle of 1990. It had seemed that Helen had a buyer. But the
buyer later backed out. This made national headlines in
mid-1991 with a New York Supreme Court Case. The court
case involved a couple who put money into escrow to
purchase the house ($32,000). Later the couple backed out
of the contract when they discovered the house was
haunted. The money in escrow than came into play. It took
a couples of year in the courts, but later the courts
decided to split the money. The court stated Buyer Beware
and that hauntings qualify as a pre-existing condition
therefore must be disclosed to potential buyers.
The following article
was found on the internet and has been posted here without the authors
permission, however the copyright and credits were left in tack.
This article deals with the sale of the house in Nyack and the court
case that surrounded it. If you want to find an update about the
house, turn to the next page.
Ex Ghost Facto
by D. Trull
In the course of studying the paranormal, you hear a lot about the
improbable overlapping of unexplained phenomena and the law,
particularly from people grasping to justify their weird beliefs by
appealing to legal authority. "A psychic detective helped police
catch a killer -- that proves psychics are real!" Or "There's
a law saying that Bigfoot is an endangered species -- that means Bigfoot
Most of these statutory stories of strangeness turn out to be strictly
hearsay and hogwash. But there is at least one case of paranormal
jurisprudence that's absolutely bona fide, although it takes a bit of
explaining to get to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
truth: the New York State Appellate Court has ruled that it is illegal
to sell a haunted house without disclosing to the buyer that it is
The dubious decision stems from the 1990 contested sale of an old
Victorian mansion in Nyack, New York. Buyers Jeffrey and Patrice
Stambovsky paid Helen Ackley a down payment of $32,500 on her asking
price of $650,000 for the house, which is said to resemble the Munsters'
home at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Despite its mysterious and spooky
appearance, the Stambovskys were altogether unaware of the house's
supernatural ill repute until a local architect happened to say,
"Oh, you're buying the haunted house."
This turned out to be much more than a superstitious rumor spread by
neighborhood kids. Mrs. Ackley herself claimed her home was haunted, and
had spent years actively promoting it as one of the top ghost hangouts
in the country. She described the multitude of spirits dwelling in the
house for a number of articles in local and nationwide publications
including Reader's Digest, discussing at length a "cheerful,
apple-cheeked" ghost she had seen, as well as others "dressed
in Revolutionary period clothing." Ackley even had the premises
featured as one of five homes in a "haunted house" walking
tour of Nyack. It seems she never was shy toward anyone about how
haunted the place was, until she decided to put it up for sale and move
Jeffrey Stambovsky was not terribly disturbed to learn of the alleged
disturbances in his prospective new home, but Patrice was completely
spooked. She was unwilling to live in a haunted house, and the couple
tried to back out of the unreal real estate deal. Refusing to admit any
negligence or wrongdoing on her part, Ackley would not cancel the sale
or return the deposit.
"We were the victims of ectoplasmic fraud," Mr. Stambovsky
said. Heeding the sage advice of Doug Llewellyn, the couple didn't take
the metaphysical law into their own hands -- they took it to court. As
might be expected, the Stambovskys lost the first round, with the court
citing their caveat emptor responsibility to uncover defects in the
property before committing to a sale.
But they persevered with an appeal to the Appellate Division of State
Supreme Court, and this time, in a narrow 3-2 decision, they won.
The court found that Ackley "had deliberately fostered the belief
that her home was possessed by ghosts," as Justice Israel Rubin
wrote for the majority, and she was therefore at fault for not telling
the buyers about this attribute of the house. "Not being a
'local,'" Rubin continued, "plaintiff could not readily learn
that the home he had contracted to purchase is haunted."
The court considered the difficulties involved with supposing that a
buyer should have to make such determinations for himself prior to
purchase. Delineating this conundrum, Justice Rubin was moved to
dazzling heights of tongue-in-cheek legalspeak:
"[A] very practical problem arises with respect to the discovery of
a paranormal phenomenon: 'Who you gonna call?' as a title song to the
movie Ghostbusters asks. Applying the strict rule of caveat
emptor to a contract involving a house possessed by poltergeists
conjures up visions of a psychic or medium routinely accompanying the
structural engineers and Terminix man on an inspection of every home
subject to a contract of sale. In the interest of avoiding such
untenable consequences, the notion that a haunting is a condition which
can and should be ascertained upon reasonable inspection of the premises
is a hobgoblin which should be exorcised from the body of legal
precedent and laid quietly to rest."
The court's decision also took into account the very tangible impact of
the house's "hauntedness" upon its property value. Because of
Ackley's avid publicizing, ghost hunters from across the country would
be seeking it out for years to come, and even creeping around in the
yard on package tours. Not exactly conditions for maximum resale
"Whether the source of the spectral apparitions seen by defendant
seller are parapsychic or psychogenic," Justice Rubin wrote,
"having reported their presence in both a national publication and
the local press, defendant is estopped to deny their existence, and, as
a matter of law, the house is haunted."
Ooh! Ahh! Look, look, a perfect soundbite from an important legal dude,
juicy and ripe for plucking out of context! In the end, the buyers got
their deposit back, and the seller successfully unloaded the dump on
someone else, despite (or possibly because of?) being forced to make its
spectral residents manifestly known. But the greater legacy of
Stambovsky v. Ackley will ever be its unending citation in ghost stories
and urban legends, a twisted precedent writ large in the pages of
haunting lore. "A judge said some house was haunted -- that means
hauntings are real!"
A discouraging thought... although, perhaps more to the point, anyone
who believes the legal system bears much meaningful connection to
reality has got more serious issues of delusion to deal with.
Specter" by Tim Madigan, CSICOP Skeptical Briefs, June 1995.
(c) Copyright 1997 ParaScope, Inc.
For an update about the house, turn to
the next page.
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