Stigmatized real estate a sticky wicket for realtors

Stigmatized properties pose an interesting dilemma for real estate agents who take on the listings.

When most people hear the word stigmatized, they may think that there was a natural death, home invasion or murder at the home or business. But poltergeist activity and ghosts do manifest from time to time and the only defense that realtors or property owners have is caveat emptor: buyer beware.

That’s essential when dealing with the legal side of home sales, says Sarah Draper, a lawyer with Daniel & Partners LLP in Niagara Region.

“If they are working in a relationship, when they are acting for both — dual representation, vendor and purchaser — and the vendor discloses that they can’t keep it a secret, they have to tell the purchaser,” she said, in an October phone call.

Draper has not personally had a file where the purchase of an allegedly haunted home has led to litigation, but there are always contracts where the vendor will include a list of items that they are not aware of when it comes to the history of a house.  

“There have been cases of complaints after the fact,” she admitted, pointing to a current property in St. Catharines, Ont. at 237 Church St. that has a spooky backstory.  

In February 1970, two members of the clergy and five police officers had a run-in with the uncanny. Answering a call of “house phenomena” an 11-year-old boy named Peter was the victim of poltergeist activity.

PC Bill Weir was the first on the scene and in his report, he mentioned the noisy spirit by name.

“My only solution to these occurrences is that the boy Peter, whom all occurrences surround, has been inhabited by a spirit of ‘POLTERGEIST’,” he wrote. “This is a spirit which inhabits the body a young child about to enter the phase of ‘puberty’ …”

The Superstitious Times reached out to Niagara Regional Police to see if officers Bob Crawford, Mike McMenamin and Weir were available to discuss their experiences. Unfortunately, Crawford and Weir are deceased. McMenamin is currently a sergeant.

Lou Tallarico is the realtor working on the sale of 237 Church Street, and he dug a little deeper into the story, just out of curiosity. However, the allegations of poltergeist activity he took with a grain of salt.

“I was just surprised, shocked, but I’m not a big believer in it,” the Re/Max Escarpment Golfi Realty Inc. team member said during an October phone call. “It’s something that we have to deal with as realtors.

“Things like that, folklore, I don’t know if it’s just a little story that just became bigger and bigger and they ran with it,” Tallarico said. “It becomes a bigger story than it would be normally.”

There’s a sense of tongue-in-cheek skepticism.

“I’ve talked to people around there and there has not been anything like that in recent years,” he added. “I think it’s just a folklore thing. The buyers bought it knowing that and they laugh it off.”

Toronto also has its list of alleged haunted homes going on the market. The Toronto Star discussed the home at 169 Walmer Road where Bert Massey, the grandson of Hart Massey, was shot on the front steps by his housemaid.

One could assume a house that was once a scene of a murder, has a few inexplicable events associated with it. But the Walmer house is an example of what stigma can do to a property.

Patrick Rocca is a realtor in Toronto who once gave
up a listing because the apartment up for lease was
once inhabited by an infamous murderer.

Toronto realtor Patrick Rocca hasn’t had the experience of selling an allegedly haunted house but acknowledges it’s a part of the job.

“I’m thankful I haven’t had a situation where I’ve had to sell a house that’s been haunted or perceived to be haunted,” he said, during an October phone call. “There have been instances where houses have sold that have had a stigma where the buyer hasn’t known of its being haunted.”

But any complaints have not gained traction as there is no law in Ontario forcing agents to disclose the information. Ontario realtors are governed by the rules set by the Ontario Real Estate Association. According to an Oct. 30 blog post by Draper, there is an obligation for agents to act with “fairness, honesty, and integrity” when dealing with other parties to a real estate transaction.

Rocca admitted he had a recent brush with a stigmatized property in Toronto. It was up for lease and he was called in to list the apartment. As soon as he heard it was tied to an infamous serial killer, within the past five years, he was out.

“It was not disclosed to me by the owner, believe it or not, and I later found out,” he said. “When I called back the owner and asked who lived there, I was told, and I didn’t want the listing because it was just so weird.”

Rocca is one to fully disclose details to clients, but if the listing is too problematic, he admitted he would rather not get involved.

Predominantly working in Leaside and some of Toronto’s other upper-middle-class neighbourhoods, he has had some friends admit to him that they’ve experienced the uncanny in their homes.

There was one instance where a close friend disclosed to Rocca that a famous family once owned their house in the Toronto neighbourhood of South Leaside, and her son had been witnessing strange occurrences.

“Her son, who is not at all a weird kid or has invisible friends, had experiences that were weird over the last 10 years,” he said. “I shouldn’t say, either you believe or you don’t believe it.

“You have to look at the stuff and say, ‘It’s creepy.’ You have to wonder.”

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