An upcoming court case in Delaware County will decide whether a murder/suicide, where a husband killed his wife and then committed suicide, constitutes a “material defect”,and should have been disclosed via the Seller’s Property Disclosure.
While Pennsylvania Seller Disclosure Law does not require the disclosure of a stigmatizing event that occurs on the property, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the sellers should have included notification of the murder/suicide in the section of the disclosure form that asks sellers to disclose any material defects “not disclosed elsewhere on this form.”
The definition of a material defect in regards to the Sellers Disclosure is:
a problem with a residential real property or any portion of it that would have a significant, adverse impact on the value of the property or that involves an unreasonable risk to people on the property
In November 2011, a Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed a lower court decision that a murder/suicide which occurred in the home did not in fact constitute a “material defect”, and consequently the sellers of the home were not required to disclose the event.
The property at the center of the case was obtained by a buyer who was aware of the murder/suicide at the time of purchase, and who subsequently sold the property nine months later. The second buyer, who was unaware of the past notorious events, is seeking legal remedy claiming the seller violated the disclosure law.
The plantiff in the case hired two appraisers, who held the opinion that the property was diminished by as much as 10 percent to 15 percent as a result of the murder/suicide. The Superior Court felt that this constituted a “material defect”, which consequently devalued the property, and should have been disclosed.
Four years ago a ruling in Beaver County which involved a suicide, stated that the suicide did not interfere with the “use and enjoyment of the property”, and therefore disclosure was not necessary. This has been the only other Pennsylvania case involving a stigmatizing event that has been decided in the state.
The precedent, based upon the outcome of this upcoming Delaware County case, may be building that disclosure of a stigmatizing event such as a murder or suicide will be required in the future.
I certainly know of many buyers who would consider the non-disclosure of such an tragic event constituting a material defect that devalues the property. As in all questions of disclosure by a seller – take the safe route and disclose it. Remember what you do not disclosure, your neighbors will, once the new owners move in.
Wallingford Real Estate – Wallingford, PA 19086