The recent case in New Jersey involving a family that bolted after a week from their new rental certainly brought back some memories. It also brought up a question that I can half answer: Do landlords and/or real estate agents have an obligation to tell prospective buyers (or tenants) that a property might be haunted. Since the case in New Jersey is going to court, I am not going to make any statements about it one way or the other (like I need to be in a stranger's lawsuit). But I have two minor stories to offer around this topic.
About fifteen years ago, my wife and I were looking to buy a house. Since this was back when the housing market was hot (and we were looking for a location in a reasonably desirable neighborhood), the process took us the better part of a year. Oh yes, these were the boom days of the market where you barely had time to look at a place before you discovered that while you were in the kitchen someone was at the front door making a deal for the house. So it was turning into a long and miserable quest.
Which is why it was not at all unusual to find ourselves on a sunny afternoon bring dragged out for the thousandth time by our agent to look at a house. We had a very good agent. A really nice, pretty straight forward, honest kind of lady. Which made what happened next a tad odd.
We got to the house (a large and slightly rambling structure on a nice and quiet street) and before I even got all the way up the front steps a thought flew into my head: "Craps! The place is haunted." I don't make a claim to having any sort of "gift." But I have also discovered that when that little voice in the back of my head speaks, I am advised to listen. It has saved my life on a few occasions.
Since I have spent more afternoons with my real estate agent then with anyone else, I decided to ask her upfront, "Hey, is this place spooked?" She gave me one of her big friendly smiles and simply said, "What makes you say that?"
So we go into a front room that has the strange feel and mood of the Tomb of Ligeia. Normally our real estate agent would put a positive spin on just about anything. She once explained to us that a house with train tracks running by its side was a sure sign that we would get a regular breeze. But the minute we entered the place, she became oddly silent. Just stood around, sticking very close to us.
Except when we went upstairs. For some reason, she didn't want to follow us. Which is sort of OK, because then I would have been tempted to ask her about the odd spot midway up the steps where both my wife and I got a very profound feeling of dread. Just plain old dread right around a section of three steps. No idea what that was about but we both felt it coming and going.
Maybe it had something to do with the pentagram etched into the window in the front bedroom. Maybe not. I wasn't going to ask because I suspected I didn't want to know the answer.
However, the real estate lady was willing to go down into the basement with me, but only if I went first and didn't go far from her. Since the basement had a low ceiling which added to the sense of claustrophobia, some of the bad vibes of the place could have been due to that alone. The odd chill also didn't help. The open entrance in one wall to an underground crawlspace that simply vanished into darkness was also a nice touch. I soon decided that I didn't need to see the basement and practically had to race the agent back up the steps.
Once we were in the kitchen, I asked her if it was true that real estate agents kept a private record of houses that were known to have "problems." She smiled and simply said, "What makes you say that?"
What I didn't tell her was that I already knew the answer. Yes, they do. Many years prior to this Vincent Price house tour, I use to know a couple who were old friends of a person I was involved with at the time. The husband was a psychologist who was getting close to retirement and was dabbling on the side in real estate as a form of second income.
One night while they were visiting, he noticed that I was reading a book by D. Scott Rogo. Turns out he had gone to college with Rogo and was curious to know what I thought of the paranormal. According to him, Rogo was already interested in the subject back in school but that he kept his own distance from it because, quite frankly, it scarred the willies out of him. Oh, and by the way, did I happen to know anything about how to deal with a haunted house?
Turns out a friend of his in the real estate profession had a house that was an infamous "problem" within the business. He refused to tell me exactly where the house was located and didn't want to discuss what the nature of the problem might be, but basically no one was willing to stay in the place for more than a week or two. In fact, the last buyer had apparently bolted before they had even completely moved in.
I asked him how he knew so much about the place, especially since the owner didn't sound too interested in discussing it. Turns out that the folks in real estate maintained an extremely informal line of communication about these type of places. Nothing on record; nothing on paper. Just a regular system of chit chat.
I should add that he was also very concerned that I did not get the mistaken idea that he might actually believe in anything pertaining to the supernatural. But....He did like my suggestion of calling in a priest.
I think you will find that this is how the system works. And by the way, they basically are under no obligation to discuss this issue publicly (though it varies some from state to state).