Some people would love the opportunity to spend a night in a haunted house but, thankfully, due to the "Ghostbusters ruling," no one can be tricked into buying a haunted house. It's one thing to go looking for evidence of the paranormal as a hobby, but unwittingly becoming roommates with a ghost isn't a pleasing prospect for most homebuyers.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened to Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky, who purchased a home in Nyack, New York, without being told by the previous owner, Helen Ackley, that it was well-known to be haunted. As a result, the Stambovskys filed the intriguing Stambovsky v. Ackley case, which resulted in the "Ghostbusters ruling," and it had a monumental impact on legal precedent.
Regardless of whether or not the house in Nyack is actually haunted, it has been legally ruled as such and must be represented that way in any future real estate deals. So, what exactly happened in this paranormal legal case? How does one decide if a house is haunted? And who, exactly, is the Ghost of Nyack?
It's interesting to note that despite the Stambovsky's ignorance around their house's supernatural status, the Ackley family was actually quite public about their home's ghosts. They even got national attention for their claims. Their story was featured in the May 1977 edition of Reader's Digest and was also mentioned a couple of times in the local newspaper.
From 1977 to 1989, the Ackleys repeatedly claimed that their home at 1 Laveta Place in Nyack was haunted by at least one ghost who had been there since the '60s. According to Helen Ackley, the ghosts even gave the family gifts. The house became part of the city's walking tour, a prime indicator of just how notorious the story was.
After telling people for so many years that the house was haunted, Helen Ackley made zero attempts to disclose this information to potential buyers. Their real estate agent also remained quiet about the house's colorful history. After the new owner, Jeffrey Stambovsky, entered into a purchase agreement and made a sizable down payment, he found out that the house was believed by many to be haunted.
Stambovsky considered the omission of this information to be an example of fraudulent misrepresentation. He took legal action and appealed when a trial court dismissed the case. The appellate division of the New York Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 1991.
A team of five New York Supreme Court justices were split by the case. Three of the justices ruled in favor of Stambovsky, with the remaining two siding with Ackley. Although New York has a long history of using the rule of caveat emptor - which puts the onus on the buyer in most cases - when dealing with misrepresentation cases, Stambovsky won.
The ruling was justified based on the claim that a house inspection couldn't be expected to determine whether or not a house was haunted. Therefore, this wasn't a case of the buyer not exercising due care. It also became clear during what would later be called the "Ghostbusters ruling" - titled such for the references to the Ghostbusters movie in the case - that failing to disclose a house's reputation may be grounds for contract rescission.
After the court's decision was rendered, interest in the house dramatically increased. It's estimated that as many as 50 people called to inquire about buying the haunted house. One of these calls came from a mentalist and performer known as the Amazing Kreskin. He indicated that if the house was truly haunted, he wanted to purchase it. Interestingly, the Amazing Kreskin didn't end up making a bid. Someone else did, though, and Ackley was able to sell the house and move to Florida in 1991.