Skip to Content

We are a Veteran Owned Business, providing 20% discounts for Veterans, First Responders, Elementary and High School teachers. Please contact us to set up a phone or Zoom meeting. Taking care of you and your family, It's What We Do!

Pennsylvania Disclosure of Murder Requirements When Selling a Property or Home

Posted on Mon Mar 2, 2015, on Probate and Estate Administration

From our “Ask a Question” Mailbag: Disclosure of Murder Selling Your House in Pennsylvania

Most Recently Updated July 9, 2018

“Do I have to disclose there was a murder in my deceased relative’s house before I sell it to a buyer?”

Probate Attorney

Disclosure of Murder Selling Your House in Pennsylvania

Disclosure of Murder Selling Your House in Pennsylvania

If you have purchased a home, you likely remember that the seller has a duty to disclose material defects. The failure to do so can constitute fraud, negligent misrepresentation or violate Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. But what exactly is a material defect? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently grappled with this issue in Milliken v. Janoco, a decision that failed to broaden the definition to include “psychological stigmas”.

Milliken v. Janoco

In 2006, a man shot and killed his wife and himself inside their Philadelphia, Pennsylvania home. Seven months later, the Janoco family purchased the home at an estate auction without prior knowledge of the murder. After fixing up the house, the Janoco family sold the home nine months later to Janet Milliken. Milliken was moving back from the West Coast, where her husband had died in the family home.

The Janoco family failed to mention the murder/suicide to Milliken, who found out from neighbors shortly after settlement. Milliken quickly sued the seller and brokers involved for failing to disclose the stigma attached to the house. The suit charged the failure to disclose the murder/suicide was a violation of the Pennsylvania Statutory Disclosure Laws or common law.

Reasoning of the Court

After quickly dismissing the Statutory Disclosure argument, the Supreme Court had to analyze whether common law principles require disclosure of a murder/suicide, or if failure to do so constituted fraud or misrepresentation. Ms. Milliken argued that, because psychological stigmas reduce the value of the property, they should be considered material defects which would require disclosure.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed.

The Court’s opinion rested on two principles. First, the Court determined that the variety of psychological stigmas that could necessitate disclosure is endless including examples such as poisoning, rape and satanic rituals. Additionally, how long does the stigma last? 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? Setting a standard for scope and degree of psychological stigmas is simply too difficult.

Second, the Court harped on the foundation of the Disclosure requirements. The laws were enacted to inform buyers of physical defects on the property that are not readily observable or knowable to a person unfamiliar with the property. Unlike physical defects, psychological stigmas do not affect the structure itself. “The occurrence of a tragic event inside a house does not affect the quality of the real estate, which is what seller disclosure duties are intended to address.” Unfortunately for Ms. Milliken, the law and sellers are not yet required to disclose psychological stigmas attached to real estate.

Information to Know

Of course, methods exist to ensure that psychological stigmas are revealed. First, simply ask. Sellers under Milliken are not required to disclose psychological stigmas but may upon request. Second, the buyer can make the disclosure material by adding language to the sale agreement to that effect. If the buyer does this, the seller can be sued for fraud or misrepresentation for failure to disclose.

When buying or selling real estate, as an executor, trustee or guardian, it’s important to know your rights and protections under the law. Or, as in Milliken, what you are not protected against. The assistance of counsel experienced in real estate transactions is one way to ensure your expectations are realized.

More Probate Questions?

Disclosure to buyers is only part of the overall probate process. By all means, if you wish to learn more, please read my more detailed article, The Probate Process All You Need to Know.

In Conclusion: Disclosure of Murder Selling Your House in Pennsylvania

I hope that this article was helpful in explaining what to do if you are selling a home where a crime has occurred. Further, I included links to even more detailed information on my website. Therefore, please contact me and let me know how I did. Certainly, your comments and questions are welcome!

Let our Probate Lawyers help walk you through what can be a confusing process. To begin with, call to speak to one of our experienced Probate Attorneys.  By all means, our lawyers are ready to answer your questions. In fact, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. Ultimately our goal is to make the process as painless as possible!

Wills, Trusts, Probate, and Estate Litigation, It’s All We Do

Tags:

Pennsylvania, Probate, Probate Attorney, Probate Lawyer

Peter KlenkPeter Klenk

What Our clients are saying

Klenk Law Logo
Stars

Sharon A.

We recently used Peter's firm to update our wills and trusts. We found he and his staff to be well-informed, professional and highly efficient. And equally valuable, Peter explains the law in terms that a layperson can readily understand.

Klenk Law Logo
Stars

Rocco D.

I have worked with Peter Klenk & his associates for some time now and I have found them to be ultra-qualified, knowledgeable and diligent about their work. I highly recommend them.

Klenk Law Logo
Stars

Ian Marchant

Mr. Klenk, quickly understood the circumstances presented and provided clear and concise advice. This advice provided me with the information I required to progress the case to my advantage.

Klenk Law Logo
Stars

Gene Link

Knowledgeable lawyers, helpful attitude, fair fees.

Klenk Law Logo
Stars

A Google User

Peter is a model attorney who puts his clients first at all costs. His extensive expertise in estate planning and tax planning was a great comfort as we began, and have expanded, our family. He is very thoughtful, generous, and quick witted. His approach towards his business has been an inspiration to his peer group, and his zest for life is extremely infectious. Without reservation, I highly recommend Peter as trusted and cherished counsel

Let us put our expertise to work for you.

Free consultation within 24 hours.