Home sellers and real estate agents shouldn’t have to tell buyers if there has been a murder or suicide in the home they’re selling or that a sex offender lives next door.
That’s the idea behind legislation that passed the Senate overwhelmingly on Wednesday.
Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden, pressed other senators to vote for the bill. Owners shouldn’t be held liable just because someone has “some sort of irrational fear,” Crow said. “Those fears psychologically damage a house to where the owner of a property … may be held liable for that.
“This holds that the owner may not be held liable.”
The legislation, SB1393, was proposed by the Idaho Association of Realtors. It has become known as the “haunted house bill.”
All North Idaho senators voted in favor of the legislation, which now goes to the House.
But Sen. Stan Hawkins, R-Ucon, said the proposal is unfair to home buyers.
“Who loses under this bill?” he asked. “It’s the person who unsuspectingly buys a home that should have had information disclosed that wasn’t. … If, in fact, it affects your ability to resell the home at some point in the future, it’s material to the value of it.”
The bill declares that owners and agents don’t have to disclose whether a property is “psychologically impacted,” whether that means there’s been a murder or suicide committed there, that a sex offender lives nearby, that an occupant of the home had some disease or some other problem.
Prospective buyers could ask agents whether the home is “psychologically impacted,” but the seller could decline to answer.
“That would be your first clue,” said Sen. Robbi King, R-Glenns Ferry.
King said buyers shouldn’t be able to sue and ask for their money back months later, just because of something irrelevant like the fact that a former owner had cancer.
But Hawkins said people who sue have to prove that they suffered damages. If they did, and can prove that, a lawsuit is appropriate, he said.
Sen. Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello, one of the bill’s sponsors, said, “Perhaps Aunt Martha died in the back bedroom, and perhaps some of the neighbors think it’s a haunted house. You’re selling a structure.”
A real estate agent shouldn’t “have to start to be a historian and a psychic,” Frasure said.
Sen. Marguerite McLaughlin, D-Orofino, the bill’s other sponsor, said people will be able to find out where registered sex offenders live under separate legislation that’s already passed the Senate.
“Something needs to be done in this area,” she said. “It’s impossible for a real estate agent to actually have verified facts on psychological impacts to a house.”
Sen. Betsy Dunklin, D-Boise, said while shopping for a home recently, “a Realtor told me there had been multiple murders that occurred in the house by a previous owner, and I lost interest….I’m afraid that we’re using this as a guise to allow Realtors not to reveal some very pertinent information that may not have to do with the structure of the house.”
But Dunklin was heavily outvoted. She was one of two Democrats and four Republicans opposing the bill.
The measure still needs House approval and the governor’s signature to become law.