Disclosing a death in the home is something that you may or may not have to do when selling it. If you are selling a home, you will be required to make disclosures about many of the material facts about your home. One specific disclosure that many sellers are often confused about is in regard to a death occurring within the home. The laws for disclosing a death that occurred in your home (when you are selling it) are different from state to state. Most don’t require disclosure for a peaceful death that happens in a home. California is one of three states that do require peaceful death in a home to be disclosed when selling.
Let’s take a quick look at California’s law for this type of home seller disclosure.
What is a Seller Disclosure
Before we jump into the specific law, let’s define what a seller disclosure is. When selling, homeowners are required to reveal various material facts and details about their home to the buyer. This informs the buyer of any known issue about the home that could negatively affect its value or use. Home sellers are required to provide disclosure documents to the seller immediately after the purchase agreement is executed.
Sellers are required to disclose any defects regarding the fixtures and items in the home. Examples include:
- Swimming Pool Equipment
- Rain Gutters
- Fire Alarms/Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Hot Water Heater
You will also need to document structural additions and defects to the house. Examples of these include:
- Bedroom additions
- Structural Modifications
- Roof Leaks
- Holes and Erosion
- Unpermitted Structures/Additions
California’s Three-Year Rule
The specific law regarding disclosure of death on a property is California Civil Code Section 1710.2. It specifies that if someone dies on a property, it must be disclosed to the buyer, but only if it happened within the past three years. After three years, the seller is no longer required to disclose it.
There are a few exceptions and nuances to this California disclosure law. Let’s take a look at these variations to the rule.
The Disposition of the Death
There is one exception that would require the seller to disclose a death occurring on the property even after three years have passed. If a violent or well-publicized murder occurred on the property, it must be disclosed, regardless of how long ago it happened.
Deaths Caused by Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
Home sellers and their agents are not required to voluntarily disclose that a prior occupant of the property was living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), or died from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)-related complications while living on the property which is being sold. Since individuals diagnosed with HIV or AIDS fall into a protected class under Federal law, a seller or their agent cannot disclose this information, even if a buyer directly asks about the cause of death.
Penalties for Non-Disclosure
Home sellers who fail to disclose are subject to the recourse of the buyer or renter of the home. They would be entitled to file a lawsuit against the seller, lessor, and their agent/broker for non-disclosure. These types of lawsuits often seek compensation for the difference in the price that was paid and the actual value based on the undisclosed death on the property.
This possibility of legal recourse makes it imperative that the seller accurately discloses a death on the property before selling.