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 is real!"
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 to Florida.
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 appreciation.
"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.
Source: "Caveat Specter" by Tim Madigan, CSICOP Skeptical Briefs, June
(c) Copyright 1997 ParaScope, Inc.
For an update about the house, turn to
the next page.
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