When do Home Sellers Need to Disclose a Death on The Property

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A couple of years ago I wrote a post (When I sell my house do I need to disclose a death by suicide if the death by suicide occurred 10 years ago) about whether a home seller was required to disclose a death by suicide if it occurred on their property and it occurred after the mandated three-year time frame for disclosure.  Recently I have received several inquiries on the subject so I thought I would look into the question again, but from the perspective of any death that occurs on the property.

Disclosure:  I am not an attorney nor do I play one on T.V.  Readers who require specific advice about their individual situation should consult a qualified attorney.

California Civil Code Section (CCCS) 1710.2 basically states that a death on a property must be disclosed if it occurred within three years of an offer on the property.  According to CCCS 1710.2, a seller doesn’t have to disclose a death on a property if it occurred after the three-year time frame.

Real estate disclosure law also stipulates that a seller and his/her agent must disclose any fact of which they have knowledge that could be material to a buyer’s decision to purchase the property.  Facts about the property are considered material if their disclosure would affect the value or desirability of the property.  Is a death on a property a material fact that affects the value or desirability of the property?  It could be.

For some buyers, a death (no matter how long ago) is a material fact.  For others, it doesn’t matter.  Does a seller have to disclose how the person died?  Well, sort of.

For example, a home comes on the market.  An interested buyer has his agent ask the listing agent if there has been a death on the property within the last three years.  If the listing agent replies with a yes, the next question is “How?”

There is one exception to this disclosure requirement, AIDS.  Disclosure of a death caused by AIDS is considered discriminatory and can’t be disclosed regardless of time frame.  So when you ask a listing agent how the person died and they respond that they can’t tell you, it is probably because the person’s death was caused by AIDS.

Note: if you have concerns about a death on the property, make sure your agent specifically asks the listing agent the question.  I suggest asking the question via e-mail so you have a record of the discussion.

What I have found in almost 20 years in selling homes locally is that most sellers don’t want to talk about a death on their property much less disclose it.  They also are aware that when a death has been disclosed, regardless of time frame, the home is likely to sell for less.

Legally a death on a property must be disclosed if it occurred within three years of an offer on the property unless it is AIDS related.  A seller is not legally required to disclose a death that has occurred after the three-year time frame.  However, try telling a buyer who just closed on such a home that legally the seller does not have to disclose the death because it occurred outside the “legally mandated time window.”

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