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Would you agree to buy a property that is haunted?

Oct 31, 2020 | 2020 Toronto Star Property Law Column

By Bob Aaron
Toronto Star contributing columnist

Bob Aaron bob@aaron.ca

Young ghosts and goblins may be imagining the hauntings that have happened in their homes this Hallowe’en. For home buyers, the possibility of purchasing a residence associated with a haunting — or other dark event — can be a true nightmare.

Take, for example, the century-old house at 169 Walmer Rd., in Toronto. It was once owned by Bert Massey, a grandson of Hart Massey, the donor of buildings like Hart House at U of T, and performance venue Massey Hall downtown. On Feb. 8, 1915, Bert was approached by his 18-year-old housemaid Carrie Davies who was allegedly holding her employer’s pistol. Two shots rang out and, within seconds, Bert lay dead on the front steps of the house. (Davies was ultimately acquitted of the crime.)

If you were interested in buying a house with a history like this one, even if the murder was more recent, would you expect to be told about it in advance?

Under Ontario law, it’s “buyer beware” when it comes to property considered to be stigmatized. There is no obligation for a seller to disclose whether a house has been the site of a murder, suicide, accidental death, or even a ghostly apparition.

Some years ago, I was acting for a client who was buying a downtown Toronto condominium unit. A clause in the purchase agreement disclosed that the prior owner had been murdered in the unit.

I asked my client whether he was concerned that he would be sleeping in the same bedroom where the last owner was killed. “Not at all,” he replied. Personally, I wouldn’t feel the same way.

Does it matter if the house is haunted? Back in 1996, John Robert Colombo wrote a book called “Haunted Toronto” (Hounslow Press.) It discusses 66 Toronto homes and public buildings that have been associated with ghosts, spirits, apparitions, poltergeists and strange events.

Many of the locations are well-known public buildings like Old City Hall, Osgoode Hall, Royal Alexandra Theatre and University College at U of T. But a considerable number of Colombo’s subjects are ordinary Toronto homes that anybody could wind up owning. Personally, I’d hate to share my residence with a ghostly roommate.

Veteran realtor Barry Lebow is a local expert on stigmatized properties, and has lectured widely on the topic. Lebow has long been in favour of stigmatized property disclosure laws, such as those in most U.S. states. He supports the requirement for agents to disclose events, such as murder, when they are aware of it. He would also like to see a time limit on mandatory disclosure of real estate stigma.

Does stigmatization affect market value? “Perception is a big part of reality when it comes to market value,” Lebow said. “It doesn’t matter what our personal beliefs are, it’s what the public believes and then conceives.”

I would not knowingly buy a home like 169 Walmer Rd., which was the site of a murder more than a century ago. But many prospective home buyers wouldn’t give it a second thought.


Contact Bob Aaron

Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer and frequent speaker to groups of home buyers and real estate agents.
He can be reached by email at bob@aaron.ca, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818.

Aaron & Aaron specialize in Real Estate Law, specifically Sale of Rental, Condominium, Residential, Rural Recreation, Offer to Lease, Commercial, and New Construction

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