By Mark Weisleder

We were all horrified to learn that a serial killer in Toronto was allegedly a landscaper who disposed of human body parts in planters at properties and may have buried remains in the gardens of homes he worked at. One of the owners said they would not sell their property because they still love their home. A key issue to me is, will the sellers have to disclose this gruesome discovery should they decide to sell their home in the future? Here are five lessons to remember when it comes to property stigmas.

1. Murders or suicides will affect a home’s value.

Most appraisers will tell you that if home has had a murder or suicide in it, it will likely affect the home’s market value, whether it occurred in the past year or even up to 20 years earlier. People still disclose what occurred many years ago when selling the old Paul Bernardo home in St. Catharines, Ont., even though the home where the murders took place was demolished and a new home built. Interestingly, it is also noted that stigmas such as these do not “travel”, meaning that it should not affect the other homes on the same street.

2. Does a murder or suicide in a home need to be disclosed by a seller?

Although the law is evolving, sellers do not have to disclose whether there has been a murder or suicide on the property or adjoining property or whether a pedophile lives on the same street.

In an interesting case a few years ago in Bracebridge, Ont., buyers refused to move in when they learned that the neighbour across the street had been convicted of possessing child pornography. The buyers sued the sellers for not disclosing this. In a preliminary motion, the sellers tried to have the case dismissed because there was no precedent for this to be disclosed. Judge Alexandra Hoy decided to let the case proceed and said, the “buyers’ claim is novel. It raises policy issues regarding the protection of children and the effect this may have on the re-integration of people convicted of certain crimes into society.”

The buyers later sold the property and did not move in and the case settled, so we do not know how a judge might have ruled. In my opinion, the garden pot body-part sellers would not have to disclose this when selling their home.

3. Does a real estate agent need to disclose a murder or a suicide if they know about it?

A real estate agent needs to tell the truth if they are asked a question. They should thus discuss this issue with any seller and get explicit instructions, preferably from the seller’s lawyer, as to how they should respond to any inquiry about these subjects. Agents should remember that sellers who tell them not to disclose something that the seller knows will devalue their property should already be treated as suspicious.

4. What about a haunted house? Does this need to be disclosed?

While most people would laugh at this, there was actually a case in New York in 1990 on this point. Helen Ackley claimed that her home in the town of Nyack, N.Y., was haunted. For a decade between 1977 and 1987 she was in the news off and on, describing paranormal incidents in her house including such things as the bed being shaken each morning by a poltergeist. Her notoriety was such that Reader’s Digest paid her $3,000 for an article, Our Haunted House on the Hudson, which was published in May 1977.

In 1990, she sold the home but did not mention anything to do with the paranormal to the buyer. The buyer sued when he later found out. The judge found that since Ackley had spoken and even made money off claims her house was haunted, she should have disclosed it. This case occurred around the time of the movie Ghostbusters. One of the judges hearing the case said, “Who you gonna call” if you find out. In my opinion, this does not have to be disclosed.

5. How can a buyer protect themselves?

In the Greater Toronto Area, we have more languages spoken and more cultures and communities than anywhere in the world. No matter what the law says, these kinds of stigmas are going to affect people. As such, buyers should Google the property address they are interested in to see if any murder, suicide or other stigma was reported. Visit the neighbours and ask about the house you are interested in and consider putting a clause right in the offer whereby the seller represents and warrants that to the best of their knowledge, there has been no murder or suicide on the property. Sellers must respond truthfully to this statement and can be sued later if they lie.



  1. I do not speak to this topic wishing to be argumentative; it’s just my personal opinion and how I operated fully for more than 35 years, totally in the opposite mindset,

    Although I advised my clients and customers to seek legal advice on the topic, I insisted on having liability disclaimers signed for my own protection, saying that as a professional REALTOR(r), it was “my” obligation to disclose. And often my advice was contrary to that of their lawyer.

    I sold several stigmatized properties during my career, among them estate sales for trust companies with whom I did repeated business year after year. I engaged and retained that business personally.

    Regardless of their legal department insistence, I still relied on my full-disclosure liability back-up, even if a natural death had taken place in the property; an adult or a child. Likewise covering the pedophile topic. In one case I had a sold-seller who learned of a private sale and they wanted me to represent their purchase. The wife was a near impossible person to please who thought she knew real estate better than I did throughout the whole sale procedure. They had a small child. I knew a pedophile lived a couple of houses away from their would-be dream home. The story had been in the newspaper. I declined the opportunity to represent them, saying goodbye to a large commission opportunity. They bought privately through their lawyer, who allegedly did not disclose, although I had told him.

    In each case, I didn’t “broadcast” the issue, but I did put on the listing that any agent bringing a buyer needed to call me before preparing an offer. I then informed the agent. I had the agent sign an acknowledgement that he had been made aware; it became his decision as to how the topic was handled with his contract.

    Many lawyers dissuaded sellers regarding disclosures. As their professional agent with associated fiduciary duty, I insisted on full disclosure, at least in some manner.

    When asked to attend a known stigmatized property I always took a paid appraiser with me, sometimes if only for security. We saw some awful, sometimes destructive things. Never open-house those properties.

    What buyers and sellers fail to take into consideration, the neighbours “talk.” There’s a market for all things at some price. To some, things such as this topic matters more than to others. It’s just my opinion, but I always advise to disclose, in some form, not just for my protection, but for my buyers and sellers.

    It’s a good idea to insert that clause in an APS, whether or not the subject property is suspect. I had one where the owner’s son had jumped off a high-rise balcony. The seller’s lawyer forbid disclosure. I used my liability disclaimer. The agent’s buyers apparently didn’t care. But I don’t know if he disclosed, although my disclosure he signed said he made his buyers aware. I did my job.

    Carolyne L 🍁

  2. In the Province of Quebec, a violent death (murder or suicide) must be disclosed by the Vendor at all times. Confirmed by Quebec’s Superior court in 2013.

  3. Do I have to disclose if someone died in the home of natural causes? Seems to me that would be yes and here is why. If we know , we need to disclose. If we think it will hinder a decision made by the Buyer , we disclose. It this not the case anymore?
    If we are the listing Agent, should we be protecting our Sellers by not disclosing? And only disclose if asked specifically ? Im totally confused . I want to get the most $$ for my Seller and protect them and me against future law suits. I have always disclosed in the Realtor Remarks of my listings and leave it up the Buyer’s Agent to decide if they tell the Buyer. When a Buyer is represented by their own Agent it is unlikely I meet them face to face and I owe them nothing unless like noted “Im asked Directly” As for the Seller I want them to avoid future law suits. So I was taught years ago , that’s 30 years now in the business, that if in ANY WAY, I think it would affect a BUYER’s DECISION and I KNOW ABOUT IT I should disclose. That leaves me as the Listing Agent the best place to disclose is the Realtor Remarks section of my listing. And if I double end to protect both me and the Seller, I put the statement right in the APS that the Buyers are fully aware blank blank died this home. If the Buyer doesn’t care he will will buy. If the Buyer does care he will not buy it and best he/she knows then not. To me the courts can swing either way and I don’t want to be in one. LOL One more thing, I have the disclosure discussion with my Sellers and every time and I mean every time since I have been licensed the Seller want to disclose . Never an issue. AS for a leaking basement. Thats something they like to hide. LOL

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