So my wife and I recently started binge watching American Horror Story on Netflix. It stars that Dylan McDreamy from those ’90s WB teen dramas, and the wife of the coach on Friday Night Lights, Connie Britton. She is great, as usual. He is able to muster tears at the drop of the hat, as usual. But like most horror films/series that involve strange happenings in a house, these two characters never get out of a house that they so obviously should have never bought in the first place. And then when, [spoiler alert] you know, they are almost murdered by copycat killers and find out the house is on a famous murders of L.A. tour, they STILL don’t move out. It takes some steam out of the proceedings. In between the quite obviously scary parts — the first four or so episodes were really, really scary — I found myself, as you would, contemplating the legal implications of all this on-the-screen horror.
So, prior to purchase, the real estate agent discloses to McDreamy and coach’s wife that, oh, by the way, the previous owners died in a murder/suicide. But she does not disclose that, oh, just about every previous occupant has also been murdered or sent to prison. The fabricated legal explanation of a three-year period aside, I found myself thinking that it would be a pretty big concealment — i.e., misrepresentation — to not mention such shenanigans.
But the really fun part was thinking — could McDreamy and coach’s wife sue the prior owner for the obvious dangers lurking in the basement? Well, maybe in real life they could, for dangers in the house that the previous owner knew about but did not fix or disclose. Property sold, new owner gets sued by new tenants, can tenant or new owner go after the seller? There are three (as usual) ways the law in California looks at that type of issue.
One way of thinking is that, hey, “carpe diem,” baby. No, not really — not “seize the day.”* I mean “caveat emptor” — buyer beware. The law might look at the new owner and say that the previous owner’s liability ended when he sold the property to the new owner. The buyer, after all, if he has any sense, has to do an inspection. (Hint: Be sure to look in the BASEMENT!) Another way of thinking, which is probably more modern, is to put the prior owner on the hook if the defect was known, not so obvious, or hidden (like that demon that only appears from time to time in the basement), or if the property as sold presents a risk to persons off the premises. Finally, if the seller created the hazard (such as by ill-advised seance), then he may be liable.
So the moral is, always check the basement and move out the moment you get a whiff of funny activity there, or if you find out your house is on the L.A. murders tour.
*Obviously, you know this movie. But virtual high five if you put it in the comments section without googling.
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