Tenant Blames Ghosts for Breaking Lease

A New Jersey woman made news earlier this year when she sued her landlord for the return of  the rent and security deposit after alleging the property was haunted.

The tenant literally “made news” in the sense that she told the story to reporters.  In response to the national media attention, the landlord spoke out about his fear he might not be able to find a new tenant for the property.

Despite the bazaar allegations, including a claim that the ghosts spoke via Skype, the tenant got her day in court — on the popular TV show The People’s Court.  The landlord counterclaimed that the tenant’s allegations damaged the value of his property.

A recent survey by Realtor.com revealed that while many buyers aren’t particularly bothered by allegations a property is haunted, they overwhelmingly expect a price discount for stigmatized properties.

Some landlords know first-hand how hard it can be to rent or sell a property with a haunted past. If a ghastly event such as a murder took place on-site, it may take years for the drama around it to resolve.

According to that survey, about 1 in 3 people would rather not take their chances with a haunted house. A tiny percentage said they found stigma appealing, and would actually pay more for the unusual history.  But 41% boldly claim they ain’t afraid of no ghosts!

Whether a tenant actually believes a property is haunted, or is using the sensationalism to break a lease, a landlord must proceed with some caution to keep this problem from escalating.

While there is no way for the tenant to convince the landlord of the presence of ghosts, there may be no way for the landlord to prove there are none.  Still, early intervention is important. Landlords cannot give in to a claim for rent abatement over supposed hauntings like the New Jersey case.  However, the landlord there did offer to allow the tenants to break the lease, so long as they paid for any resulting vacancy.

Overcoming stigma is not easy, especially when real-life horror occurred on the property. Coming clean with the facts is usually better than allowing renters or buyers to use their own imaginations.

It also may help to provide a minor face-lift, so the property is less likely to remind someone of the pictures they may have seen in the papers.

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