Real Estate & Property Law

Murder-suicide does not have to be disclosed to home buyer, state supreme court says

A murder-suicide in a home is not a material defect that must be disclosed to the buyer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled.

The court ruled (PDF) on Monday in a suit by the buyer, Janet Milliken, alleging common law fraud, negligent misrepresentation and violation of the state’s consumer protection law. “Regardless of the potential impact a psychological stigma may have on the value of property, we are not ready to accept that such constitutes a material defect,” the court said. The Legal Intelligencer and have coverage.

The implications of a contrary holding “are palpable, and the varieties of traumatizing events that could occur on a property are endless,” the court said. “Efforts to define those that would warrant mandatory disclosure would be a Sisyphean task. One cannot quantify the psychological impact of different genres of murder, or suicide—does a bloodless death by poisoning or overdose create a less significant ‘defect’ than a bloody one from a stabbing or shooting? How would one treat other violent crimes such as rape, assault, home invasion, or child abuse? What if the killings were elsewhere, but the sadistic serial killer lived there? What if satanic rituals were performed in the house?”

Though most people would probably find such events disturbing, the events are not defects in the structure itself, the court said.

Milliken had purchased the Thornton, Pennsylvania, property in June 2007 for $610,000 from Kathleen and Joseph Jacono, who had purchased the property at auction in September 2006 for $450,000 and renovated it. The previous owner had fatally shot his wife and himself in the home in February 2006.

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