Disclosing death on a property - woman completing paperwork with image of house in the backgroundDisclosing death on a property is required in California home sales for 3 years after the person passes. The Seller Property Questionnaire asks if the seller is aware of:

Within the last 3 years, the death of an occupant of the property upon the property (yes / no)

(Note to seller: The manner of death may be a material fact to the Buyer, and should be disclosed, except for a death by HIV / AIDS.)

Some points to note regarding this form and disclosing death on a property:

  • The question does not say “in the house” or “in the garage”, but upon the property. Included is anywhere within the property boundaries.
  • If someone died further back than that, the seller is obligated to answer truthfully if a buyer asks if there was ever a death on the property.
  • Oddly, it specifies “an occupant” of the property rather than any death at all. I suspect that any death would be of interest to a buyer, and possibly a material fact. An attorney would be the best person to answer that question.

Deaths from crimes, or which would be a stigma, such as a suicide or murder, should be disclosed even if it’s been more than 3 years since that’s an issue which may materially impact value or desirability. There’s no question on the disclosure forms that asks this. It falls under the general requirement to disclose anything that a buyer may be  seriously concerned about, such as a stigma.

What about disclosing death on a property which is part of a condo complex?

First, it’s important to understand that detached homes, townhomes, and condo units that look like apartments can all be condominiums – condos are a type of ownership. They aren’t an architectural style. The comments below MAY apply to townhomes, or possibly other types of structures, if that home is held in condo ownership.

With condominium ownership, the owner owns the interior airspace of the living area (sometimes also the garage, but sometimes not) and owns a percentage of the common areas of the parcel. The condo owner is a partial owner of the entire parcel or property.

If there’s a death in a condo complex in the common area, will that be shared in the disclosures? It should be, whether the death was inside the unit for sale or anywhere within the common area of the parcel boundaries.

Some condominium home owners (and possibly some real estate agents who list condos) who are aware of deaths of occupants in the complex may not understand that “the property” means not just their unit, but the grounds of the parcel as a whole.  That includes any private driveways, parking areas, pool area, recreation area, etc.

As a home buyer, what can you do to make sure that you are told of any deaths?

  1. Ask the listing agent (and seller, through the listing agent) if they have any knowledge of deaths anywhere in the complex or in the unit, including further back than 3 years ago.
  2. Ask if you can see more than just 12 months worth of HOA newsletters and meeting minutes. There’s an extra charge for this and it takes time to obtain this info, but if it’s important to you it might be good to ask. Deaths are normally mentioned (“We were sorry to hear of the passing of Mrs. Smith of unit 112”), and then you can check online to see if an obituary mentions where the death took place.
  3. Violent deaths and suicides may be findable on local police websites, though I don’t know how far back in time they go.
  4. Ask your buyer’s agent for the Realist Report (or otherwise check transfers of title for the property). If you see a transfer that says “Affidavit” or “Affidavit of death”, that death certificate can be accessed for a small fee, currently $5. It will include the location of the death and manner of death.

What about disclosing death on a property for prospective tenants signing a lease?

Many disclosures required for selling a home also apply when leasing one. Landlords are required to disclose death on a property in the last 3 years, just as home sellers are required to do so.

Reading related to disclosing death on a property:

When a parent, spouse or loved one dies – what do you need to know or do about the house? (this site)

NEW California Disclosure – Home Fire Hardening Disclosure and Advisory (this site)