When you purchase real estate in California, the seller and/or listing agent must disclose any material defects. A material defect is a problem or issue with the property that could negatively affect your decision to buy. The law requires sellers to disclose material defects to avoid misrepresentation or fraud.

If you knew someone had died on the property in the past, would that make you less likely to buy it? For some people, the answer is yes. However, California law regards death on the property as a material defect only under certain circumstances.

Three-year rule

Under state law, a death that occurs on the property within three years of your purchase/rental offer is a material defect. As such, the seller has a responsibility to disclose it to you and other potential buyers. However, once the three-year time frame has elapsed, the seller is no longer under any obligation to voluntarily disclose information about a death that occurred previously on the property.

Nevertheless, if it is important to you to know whether or not anyone has ever died on the premises, ask the seller about it specifically. Even though the law does not require the seller to volunteer the disclosure after three years, it does require the seller to tell the truth about any deaths that have occurred on the property if asked directly.

If you find out that the seller has lied in response to your inquiry about deaths on the property, or failed to disclose a death that happened within the three-year time limit, you have grounds to file a lawsuit.

One exception

California law allows one exception to the rules regarding death disclosures in real estate transactions. A seller does not have to disclose a death that occurred within three years if the cause was acquired immune deficiency syndrome, nor does the seller have to tell you about a more remote death that occurred due to AIDS when questioned. The reason is that federal law regards such disclosures as discriminatory due to the condition’s classification as a disability.

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