All Hope Abandoned Ye Who Enter Here (But Make Sure You Take Some Candy On Your Way Out)

by: Gregory S. Ricciardi

Some people look forward to the winter holiday season all year (especially retailers), but my my favorite holiday is Halloween. Fall is in full swing with crisp air and colorful, crunchy leaves under foot.  It is the one day of the year when goblins, ghouls and creatures of all ages can roam the streets in search of candy or mischief.  It is also the time for a Halloween tradition that is near and dear to this Porzio Real Property Blogger’s “tell-tale” heart.  The Haunted House. 

As a child growing up on Long Island, I had driven past the “Amityville Horror House” more times than I can count. The house has since been substantially renovated, but that did not stop the press  from covering  its recent sale in the summer of 2010. 

Attorney’s who have taken a property law course in the last twenty years may remember the famous case of Stambovsky v. Ackley in New York.  In this case,  the plaintiff contracted to purchase a house from the defendant.  After the sale was complete, the plaintiff learned the house had a reputation as being haunted.  Once the plaintiff learned that the house was haunted, they sought the equitable remedy of rescission of the sale contract.   The Appellate Division in New York held:

From the perspective of a person in the position of plaintiff herein, a very practical problem arises with respect to the discovery of a paranormal phenomenon: “Who you gonna’ call” as a title song to the movie “Ghostbusters” asks.  Applying the strict rule of caveat emptor to a contract involving a house possessed by a poltergeist conjures up visions of a psychic or medium routinely accompanying the structural engineer and Terminix man on an inspection of every home subject to a contract of sale.  It portends that the prudent attorney will establish an escrow account, less the subject of the transaction come back to haunt him and his client…In the interest of avoiding such untenable consequences  the notion that a haunting is a condition which can and should be ascertained upon reasonable inspection of the premises is a hobgoblin which should be exorcised from the body of legal precedent and laid quietly to rest.  169 A.D. 2d 254, 257 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991). 

The New York Times also featured a story recently ("The Real Scare Is Not Being Scary") on the escalating “fright factor” needed to pull off a successful haunted house these days.  The article profiles the minds behind Universal Studios Theme Park’s Halloween Horror Nights. Other theme parks feature similar Haunted House experiences such as Six Flags Fright Fest in New Jersey. 

For those looking for a good scare in New Jersey or other parts of the country, the following website provides a guide to area haunted houses: 

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