Friday, December 9, 2011

Does a seller have a duty to disclose that someone has died in a car or house that he is trying to sell?

I've been reading a lot about dead people recently.  Last week I read an article about a woman in Detroit who is suing an auto dealership for selling her a car that smells like a dead body.  She claims that the car did not stink last winter when she bought it, but when the weather warmed up in the spring, the odor of death became apparent.  She claims that she had the odor tested and it came back positive for human remains.  She has sued the dealership for failure to disclose the fact that someone had died in her car.  HERE is an article about that lawsuit.

Then, yesterday I read about a guy in Sauk Village, Illinois who was showing a property that he owns to a prospective buyer.  When they walked into the basement, they found two dead bodies. HERE is the article from the Chicago Tribune.  The real estate agent for that house was quoted in the Tribune as saying that the seller is now required by law to disclose those deaths to new prospective buyers.

I'm not so sure about that.  The Illinois Residential Real Property Disclosure Act requires certain sellers of residential property to deliver to the prospective buyer a written disclosure statement as required by the Act.  HERE is a link to the written disclosure statement.    The form contains 22 questions that must be answered by the seller relating to potential material defects in the property.  I don't see anything on that form about dead bodies.  Unless the body rotted through the floor, somehow infected the water supply, or otherwise caused some material defect, I don't think that the existence of a dead body in the house is a material defect all by itself.  

There is further evidence against a duty to disclose a dead body in the Illinois Real Estate Licensing Act of 2000.  That Act says that "no cause of action arises against a licensee for failing to disclose...ii) that the property was the site of an act or occurrence that had no effect on the physical condition of the property or its environment or the structures located thereon." (i.e., a murder or a suicide)  225 ILCS 454/15-20.  This statute only limits the liability of the realtor, but if the realtor did not have duty to disclose, it can be argued that the seller does not either.

So, with respect to real estate in Illinois, I don't think that there is any duty for a seller to go beyond the requirements of the Disclosure Act, which does not require the disclosure of a dead body.  

And regarding vehicles in Illinois, there do not appear to be any laws on the subject.  I think it will come down to the language of the warranty, if any.  If you bought the car "as is," I think you're out of luck.  This does remind me of a Seinfeld episode however.  But I think Jerry's car was just in the shop when it came back stinky.  I don't think it was a purchased vehicle that stank.  And I don't recall Jerry ever suing anybody because of the odor.  So, I guess I'm right.  No duty to disclose exists.   Have a nice weekend.


Matt Duco said...

It was after Jerry valeted the car that it started to smell. He figured that the culprit was the valet's
BO. But maybe he moved a dead body with the car.

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