This story is from a while ago, but we’ve resurrected it because, well, it’s about a ghost. We also want to skip a week of talking about COVID-19, and you’ll have to read on to see if we mention anything about eminent domain and New York Lawyers.
Apparently, there is a ruling, an infamous ruling, called the “Ghostbusters Ruling”. It regards a New York house that was legally deemed haunted. Honestly, we didn’t know that there was such a ruling until we read it in the news. It certainly caught our attention, though.
Some people like to visit haunted houses at amusement parks, others decorate their houses like a haunted house for Halloween, and there are even some that would love the opportunity to spend a night in a haunted house. However, due to the "Ghostbusters Ruling," no one can be tricked into buying a haunted house. Yup, no “trick or treat” or just tricks. It’s perfectly legal to go looking for evidence of the paranormal as a hobby, but unwittingly moving in with a ghost isn't something that most homebuyers look for on their list of desires.
Here’s a very real example. Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky purchased a home in Nyack, New York, without being told by the previous owner, Helen Ackley, that it was well-known to be haunted. (We took a pause here, because if we were shopping for a house and the homeowner said that it was haunted, we would be more scared about the stability of the homeowner than of the house).
Ok, back to the story. The Stambovsky’s purchase the house, realize that it is haunted, and filed the intriguing Stambovsky v. Ackley case. (We also wonder what type of lawyer takes on a haunted house bought by mistake case, but we can leave that for another day).
The result of the case was the "Ghostbusters Ruling." Needless to say, it had a “monumental” (a bit of ghost humor here) impact on legal precedent. Regardless of whether or not the house in Nyack is actually haunted, it has been legally ruled as such and must be represented that way in any future real estate deals.
We are confused too! So, here’s how it all went down. First, The Stambovsky family did not google anything about their new home obviously. (You can google the address: 1 Laveta Place in Nyack) As it turns out, the Ackley family was quite public about their home's ghosts and a story was featured in the May 1977 edition of Reader's Digest and was also mentioned in the local newspaper a few times.
Helen Ackley, the homeowner said that since the 1960s, the house was haunted by one ghost and it even gave the family gifts. The house became part of the city's walking tour, a prime indicator of just how notorious the story was.
After telling people for so many years that the house was haunted, Helen Ackley apparently made zero attempts to disclose this information to potential buyers. The Stambovsky’s alleged that they did not find out about the “hauntings” until after they delivered a down payment on the home. Stambovsky considered the omission of this information to be an example of fraudulent misrepresentation. He took legal action-and a trial court dismissed his case; so he appealed. The Appellate Division agreed to hear the case in 1991.
A bench of five Appellate Justices delivered a split decision on the case. The majority (three Justices) ruled in favor of Stambovsky, with the remaining two Justices siding with the seller--Ackley. We seriously wish we could’ve been a fly on the wall in that courtroom!
Although New York has a long history of using the rule of caveat emptor (i.e., “buyer beware”), which makes the buyer alone responsible for inspecting the home and ensuring it is suitable for sale—in this case the Stambovsky buyers won. The ruling was based on the theory that a regular house inspection couldn't be expected to reveal whether or not a house was haunted.
The ruling became known as the "Ghostbusters Ruling,” after the movie. In its decision, the Court held that failing to disclose a house's reputation may be grounds for contract rescission. Interestingly, the house has had three different owners between the years 1991 – 2019 (makes you wonder whether anyone else had issues with the hauntings, or whether they knew about them and were fine with it?)
In case you are curious, the ghosts have names: Sir George, who was reportedly haunting the house along with his wife, Lady Margaret. A psychic stated that the spectral couple had died in England in the 1750's. While this makes for a good story, it is very confusing since the house is in Nyack, New York. What are English ghosts doing on this side of the pond?
This story gets even better. Seller Helen Ackley passed away in 2003, and her son-in-law, Mark Kavanagh, says that she now went back to haunt the house. Apparently, there were no territorial disputes between Sir George, Lady Margaret, and Helen Ackley; as during the court proceedings in 1991, Helen Ackley said that when she eventually moved, she would take the ghosts of Sir George and Lady Margaret with her.
Search online and you can find even more juicy details about the house and its list of owners (currently alive and currently haunting). Until next week, when we go back to the realities of our eminent domain practice that’s definitely not haunted. But then again, we’re based in New York City and haven’t been there in a while…