Renting an apartment where a murder occurred, must landlord inform potential tenant?
February 4, 2010 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Renting an apartment where a murder occurred, must landlord inform potential tenant?

Hey all. Girlfriend and I are in the search for a new apartment. We look at a place we fall in love with, and the extremely picky landlord likes us very much. All is well...

Until I poke around on the internet about this house. It has much history with the town and I was looking for more information about it. I found out that a man was murdered there 6 months ago, verified by news articles and photos of the house, and the landlord being listed as the registered owner in one of the articles about the murder. One tenant killed the other, put his body in the shed for two days, then transported it a couple hundred miles away and disposed of it. The killer was caught, and I'm assuming he is still in jail, possibly awaiting trial.

The owner of the house mentioned nothing about this during our 1 hour long meeting. Should she have? I have (few) issues living at that house. My girlfriend might have more, if she knew. I was thinking of writing the owner and asking her for full disclosure. She seems like the type of person who would want to be honest with us, and I'd appreciate the honesty.

posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, for all you know, perhaps the owner has been advised by his lawyer not to make public comments about the murder. Or perhaps he's under a gag order by the court. Or, something else.

As to whether you should move into the apartment: if you're uncomfortable with this aspect of it, and I don't blame you if you are, then the solution here is simple. Don't move in and look elsewhere.
posted by dfriedman at 6:54 AM on February 4, 2010

If you are expecting your landlord to tell you about the negatives of a place, you are bound to be disappointed.
posted by smackfu at 6:56 AM on February 4, 2010 [14 favorites]

I've never heard of a landlord being obligated to tell you what the previous tenants did. Besides, if the place has been cleaned, what does it matter?
posted by mhoye at 7:02 AM on February 4, 2010

I'm going to play devil's advocate and ask what bearing this has on anything? There's no ghost haunting the place. The killer isn't coming after you. The body isn't still there. Unless there are bloodstained floorboards or something, I don't see what the issue is. This isn't like mould inside the walls, which is something that has a direct bearing on you and your health.

Perhaps the landlord just found two tenants that she liked and wants to rent the place to them. Maybe I'm just blasé about this, but I don't see what the issue with someone dying there at some point previously is. People die in hospitals - does that stop you going to them for treatment?
posted by Solomon at 7:07 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

We actually covered this very situation in my property law class.

Stigmatized property!

Also, another situation where the house was supposed to be haunted.

Maybe Stambovsky v. Ackley?

Given that, those property law cases are about selling a property, and the undisclosed information hurting the future resale value of the property (causing damages). This wouldn't apply to a rental, unless there was some one-off local law.
posted by smackfu at 7:09 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Okay, I just looked back at my class notes. This is not legal advice and is going to vary depending on your state. This was also about buying/selling property as opposed to just renting.

Traditionally under common law (judge-made law, as opposed to the kind made by a legislature), a property seller didn't have a duty to inform the buyer of hidden problems; they just couldn't intentionally lie about them or hide them.

BUT the trend now in most states is that if a seller knows of a hidden problem that affects the desirability or value of the property, they have to disclose it.

BUT this is less clear when it comes to problems that are intangible, like someone having been murdered there, as opposed to having mold behind the walls or something.

In this case, in New York, the appeals court held that the supposed ghost SHOULD have been disclosed.

Short answer, it varies by your state, even then it depends, but it is something that's legitimate enough to have been through the courts before in varying places with varying results.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:17 AM on February 4, 2010

Ah, I see you got there first while I was looking it up, smackfu.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:17 AM on February 4, 2010

In BC, there isn't any requirement to disclose anything like this. There isn't even a need disclose if, for example, a residence has been repeatedly burgled.
posted by Mitheral at 7:22 AM on February 4, 2010

Are you, in fact, afraid of ghosts, or are there other issues we should know about?
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:23 AM on February 4, 2010

Like others have said, I don't think the landlord has an obligation to tell you someone was murdered, since it really has no direct bearing on you. Would it be any different if someone died of natural causes in the apartment?
posted by puritycontrol at 7:32 AM on February 4, 2010

You seem to be asking for a formal disclosure of facts already known to you. I think, since you already know, the landlord's obligation to disclose is moot and any kind of pro forma letters you want to send are a waste of everyone's time. Either you are comfortable living there, or not. If you aren't, don't sign the lease. You seem to be concerned about the landlord's honesty but you haven't told your girlfriend, who will be living there with you. Tell her, make a decision together, and stop putting form over function.
posted by bunnycup at 7:35 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second the answers that say it may well depend on your location. I know someone (in Ontario, Canada) who sold a house a year after a family member had committed suicide in it and who mentioned that the realtor was required to inform potential buyers of this fact. I do not recall the reason, but I am sure it was not ghosts.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:44 AM on February 4, 2010

My condo building is 106 years old and I've no doubt that many sad and awful human events have occurred within these walls. Sure, it's creepy if you really think about it--but that's life. Maybe you can get a bit of a deal on the rent?
posted by applemeat at 7:53 AM on February 4, 2010

My girlfriend might have more, if she knew.

Since you care, you might also tell your girlfriend, it seems to me.

In terms of law and rules, I cannot see what possible harm accrues to you in this situation that would compel the landlord to make a disclosure.

Also, you know, tons of crazy things have probably happened in that house! I know, for instance, that the various previous tenants of my own apartment have attempted suicide, taken drugs and had gay sex—all right where I am sitting right this moment. And yet somehow I am okay.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:53 AM on February 4, 2010

If I were you, the only concern I would have is if the scene was properly cleaned and is not comtaminated by....lingering bodily fluids. I would just ask the landlord if they can show a receipt or something from the cleanup to prove it was done right (if the murder happened insode).
posted by WeekendJen at 8:06 AM on February 4, 2010

Make sure to check the carpeting. But yeah, I agree with everyone that says it depends on your personal comfort level. And tell your girlfriend.
posted by amicamentis at 8:14 AM on February 4, 2010

nthing depends on your location. A family member is a real estate agent in PEI, Canada, and she once mentioned to me that murders didn't need to be disclosed, but suicides did (maybe it's the same deal in Ontario, as per what ricochet biscuit said?).
posted by 1UP at 8:26 AM on February 4, 2010


Landlord: Hello?

You: Hi there, its anonymous, we saw the apartment last week...

Landlord: Oh, hi, how are you?

You: Fine fine, thanks, and yourself?

Landlord: I'm well, thanks. So do you have any more questions about the apartment? Because I'm really hoping to sign a tenant soon...

You: Well, yes, actually - I do. I'll be honest, we really fell in love with this apartment and we are definitely considering signing. There's just one thing - I was doing a little looking around online about the place and the neighborhood, and - well, read some pretty grisly stuff. Is there anything further you'd like to say about the apartment and its most recent tenants, in the interest of full disclosure? I can't promise your answer won't affect our decision-making process, but if there is anything you can tell me about it, I think it would help ease my concerns a bit.


(this is the part you write down and post a follow-up here about)
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:49 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just out of curiosity, I did a quick search to see how statutes that deal with this problem treat *leasing* of real property as opposed to selling. You can read about what one state did here.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:36 AM on February 4, 2010

Ethically, I think the landlord has an obligation to disclose the facts. You say the landlord is picky; the landlord should be as respectful of tenant needs as s/he wants tenants to be of hers. If I rented an apt. where someone was murdered, and given the age of my previous home, I probably owned a home where someone died, I'd burn some sweetgrass or incense and silently wish for safe passage for any spirits who may still be there. I'm not usually very woo-woo, but murder would give me a slight case of the willies; ritual is a reasonable way to address the icky feeling. For what it's worth, I used to be a landlord, and I would have disclosed this.
posted by theora55 at 10:03 AM on February 4, 2010

Maybe I'm just a cheap, devious bastard, but it seems to me like you could use the non-disclosure to your advantage and possibly negotiate a lower rent.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:04 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

If an apartment is old enough, it's seen so many tragedies over the years that a landlord can't be expected to disclose them all. I did some cursory investigation into my apartment building and was astonished at the weird stuff that came up.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:07 AM on February 4, 2010

Definitely check the carpeting. My gf bought a house where there was a murder-suicide and ...well, let's just say that it hadn't been cleaned as well as it should have. My understanding is that there may be state laws in this regard, but IANAL.
posted by idb at 10:55 AM on February 4, 2010

I live in a house that had a murder-suicide in the 1970s. We didn't know about it until after we moved in, but we now know that the stain on the floorboards by the fireplace has a story to it!

It doesn't bother us at all, but I did wonder what the legal situation was. Apparently if you buy a house in California, the seller is obliged to disclose if someone died in the property within the last two years (or maybe five). I think it's a health and safety issue rather than a "look at the bits of brains still stuck to the ceiling" issue. IANAL, though, and I'm sure someone else will chime in with the full details.

We also found out that at least three other people had died in the house (it's 80 years old) of natural causes or illness over the years, which is probably pretty standard for every older building.

A house in my neighborhood hasn't sold for a while because there were two drug-related murders there in 2008, and it's on a seedy end of a street. If the place you're looking at seems perfect apart from its history, and it's in a decent part of town, I wouldn't let the murder worry you too much. I do think you should tell the owner that you know about it, though.
posted by vickyverky at 11:20 AM on February 4, 2010

Also seconding theora55. I'm not woo-woo at all, either, but we burned some sage and dusted the rooms when we moved in. The ritual might make you feel better.
posted by vickyverky at 11:22 AM on February 4, 2010

I'd mostly be concerned about the clean-up thing, as others have pointed out, so I'd contact the owner and ask her directly about what was done about that part. Whatever else she tells you will let you know if you're dealing with an ethical person, statutes or not statutes. No need to be coy.
posted by batmonkey at 2:38 PM on February 4, 2010

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