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Stigmatized Property

Q. I just listed a property for my seller client. After meeting with the seller several times and walking through the property I put it on the multiple listing service. As I was checking in with my seller last week, she mentioned that the property was the scene of a suicide during the time it was owned by the previous owners. She is wondering if we are required to disclose this to buyers.

A. A common question among REALTORS® is what to disclose when it comes to tragic events such as suicides or homicides which may have occurred at a particular listing. A section of Chapter 93A, known as the stigmatized property law, provides the answer to these types of questions: absent specific inquiry about the incident by the prospective purchaser, there is no duty for the broker to either investigate or affirmatively disclose murders, suicides, allegations of ghosts or other potential stigmas. If a consumer does ask, however, the broker or salesperson must answer the question regarding the stigma honestly and to the best of their knowledge.

The stigmatized property law does not mean that a REALTOR’S® obligation under Chapter 93A to disclose known physical defects (leaky roof, foundation problems, etc.) found on the premises is diminished in any way. Brokers and salespersons should remember that one of the most effective ways to deal with these issues is to ask the seller to complete a Seller’s Description of Property Form and provide all prospective purchasers with a copy of the form. For additional information regarding the disclosure of stigmatized property authorized callers can contact the MAR legal hotline at (800)370-5342

From the Massachusetts Assocation of REALTORS Legal Counsel

On August 11, 1998, Governor Paul Cellucci signed H. 2099, An Act Relative to Disclosure of Information in Real Estate Transactions. With the passage of this legislation Massachusetts joins thirty other states that have passed laws to ensure that the privacy rights of persons with HIV and the families of victims of suicide and violent crime are respected. The effective date of the legislation is November 9, 1998.

HIV STATUS OF FORMER/CURRENT OCCUPANTS

In simplest terms, the law states that questions regarding the HIV status of any former or current occupant of a residential dwelling should not be answered by the real estate licensee, even if the answer is that the individual in question does not have AIDS or the HIV virus. In regards to this type of inquiry by a consumer the National Association of REALTORS“ recommends that REALTORS“ give the following response:

It is the policy of our firm not to answer inquiries of this nature one way or the other since the firm feels that this information is not material to the transaction. In addition, any type of response by me or other agents of our firm may be a violation of the federal fair housing laws. If you believe that this information is relevant to your decision to buy the property, you must pursue this investigation on your own.

MURDERS, SUICIDES, AND OTHER STIGMAS

A question that has troubled REALTORS“ for many years is the disclosure responsibilities of real estate licensees when it comes to tragic events such as suicides or homicides which may have occurred at a particular listing. Due to the passage of this new legislation the answer to these types of questions is now clear, absent a specific inquiry about the incident by the prospective purchaser, there is no duty for the broker to either investigate or affirmatively disclose murders, suicides, allegations of ghosts or other potential stigmas. However, unlike the situation with HIV issues described above, if a consumer does ask, however, the licensee must answer the question regarding the stigma honestly and to the best of their knowledge.

It is important to remember that this new law does not mean that a REALTORSís“ obligation under Chapter 93A to disclose know physical defects (leaky roof, foundation problems etc.) found on the premises is diminished in any way. Brokers and salespersons should remember that one of the most effective ways to deal with these issues is to ask the seller to complete a Sellerís Description of Property Form and provide all prospective purchasers with a copy of the form. In short, this new law should help to keep disclosures issues focused where they belong, on the house itself and not the people who live in it. For additional info contact MARís Legal Department @ (781) 890-3700.

Chapter 294 of the Acts of 1998

AN ACT FURTHER REGULATING THE DISCLOSURE OF CERTAIN INFORMATION IN REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1. Chapter 93 of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-

Section 108. The fact or suspicion that real property may be or is psychologically impacted shall not be deemed to be a material fact required to be disclosed in a real estate transaction, except as provided in this section. "Psychologically impacted" shall mean an impact being the result of facts or suspicions including, but not limited to, the following:

(a) that an occupant of real property is now or has been suspected to be infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus or with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or any other disease which reasonable medical evidence suggests to be highly unlikely to be transmitted through the occupying of a dwelling;

(b) that the real property was the site of a felony, suicide or homicide; and

(c) that the real property has been the site of an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon.

No cause of action shall arise or be maintained against a seller or lessor of real property or a real estate broker or salesman, by statute or at common law, for failure to disclose to a buyer or tenant that the real property is or was psychologically impacted.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the provisions of this section shall not authorize a seller, lessor or real estate broker or salesman to make any misrepresentation of fact or false statement.

SECTION 2. The provisions of this act shall apply only to transactions entered into after the effective date of this act.

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