73 Will There be Ghosts?

“Beverage, anyone?” Seth offered. “I usually have coffee about now. It’s pretty good since we got one of those instant machines.” Four different beverages and a plate of tempting pastries followed by four bathroom breaks later, they resumed the consultation.Chapter 73 Will There be Ghosts?

“How much do we have to prove? Do we meet the ordinary care standard, based on what Seth says?” Mrs. James lisped over ‘Seth says.’ She coughed a little, pretending the slip came from crumbs of the buttery biscuit she’d just savored. After the Doyle woman’s running insults with names, she aimed to be pitch perfect at pronunciation. Mr. Hough would have to do as a form of address, in future. Seth Hough stepped politely into the awkward silence, undaunted by the various interpretations of his name that occurred despite its endless repetition over the airwaves.

“There’s typically language in docs to say that an association isn’t liable for damages to a unit owner as a result of injury that occurs in a common area. That extends to a guest, too. Always assuming that there’s been no wanton, willful, or negligent act by the association. If there were, then the association wouldn’t be immune.”

“But a trespasser has no claim,” Hans stated. If Peter was a trespasser then Rusty was the guest of a trespasser. Two degrees of separation from a possible though an unlikely claim; less unlikely, if he’d given permission for their visit. Perish that thought.

“A trespasser has no claim,” Seth reiterated. “And, to address the rest of your question Mrs. James, there is apparently no evidence in this case that any actions or omissions by the association were the proximate cause of the drowning.”

“But there may be evidence that, other than bringing him into the building in the first place, a resident might have been involved somehow in the actual drowning, or in the failure to report the drowning. The police are still asking for residents to come forward with additional information.”

“That’s a whole new ball game, when we get into personal responsibility for possibly criminal behavior. It is a felony to abandon a body.”

“You mean if someone left him there, in the pool?” asked Hans.

“That depends on what the meaning of the word ‘left’ is. If a person abandons, deserts, or ‘leaves’ a corpse, as in ‘I found him there and I left him just where I found him,’ or, ‘I just left him alone, right where he was,’ without reporting the location to law enforcement, that’s a felony. But it doesn’t involve a sufficient relationship with the deceased to criminalize it.”

That’s Peter’s goose cooked then, thought Hans. And mine too, if I cover it up? He hadn’t actually seen it happen. It was all hearsay from Peter.

“The distinction is that it is a crime to take, deposit, or ‘leave’ a body, as in “I put him there and I left him there.” The police will be trying to establish this sequence, as well shall we say, whether anyone ‘contributed’ to his death.”

“The other point Mrs. James is making, though,” continued Earnest, “is that these, if there turn out to be any, actions of a resident, or residents, will still have an ongoing effect on the whole association.”

“Enter the Realtor,” directed Seth. “It’s possible that your sellers could take some knocks in the market because of this depending on how it’s handled, or what particular buyers care about. But it’s not a defect nor a disclosure item so far, under the strict definition. Agents handle it different ways. Some might regard the building as the scene of a suspicious death, or even a murder, consider it to be stigmatized, and avoid it. Others might be upfront about it.”

“Is there a difference between a defect and a stigma?”

“A bit hazy, like the ghosts that are sometimes reported to take up residence in a property after a death.”

“Oh, I never thought about that, at all!” Mrs. James looked up, quite startled. “Oh Earnest, can’t you just hear Poppy and Pansy asking, “Will there be a ghost, Mrs. James?”” Seth pressed on with his answer.

“By definition, a ghost cannot easily be seen during a property inspection. There would be no physical sign of a defect unless this were a damaging type of ghost, not the rattling of chains type. The seller might never experience the ghost so not disclose it. Even if the seller tells the listing agent, the agent is not obliged to disclose it. It’s not a defect. A buyer isn’t likely to hear of haunting until after moving in and meeting the neighbors, who will be delighted to tell all, probably even before the buyers have an opportunity to meet their ghost.” Mrs. James reminded herself that, in the minds of some, she was this neighbor.

“Is that the only way to look at it?” Earnest didn’t see his pun.

“Legally, you mean? This is where stigma comes into it. The property could be seen as stigmatized, not based on a physical defect but on a psychologically based situation. Some, but not all, people might think this would devalue the property. Some could have a religious or cultural objection. Others might think it charming, adding to the historical value of the place. It really depends on the potential buyer. For those reasons, wise agents suggest to the seller that a death, much less a supposedly haunted house or other types of potentially disruptive or upsetting activities, be disclosed to buyers simply to avoid subsequent objections or contractual challenges.”

“Is exorcism ever attempted?” Mrs. James wanted to know. “I’m perfectly serious.”

Poolside reading material for condo residents.

Poolside rescue pole and instructions for condo residents.

“I believe it has, though to what effect I can’t say,” Hough answered. “Perhaps it’s enough to provide some ease. Not my department, I’m afraid.”

“And what about the rest of us, not ghosts or zombies, that continue to really live there?” Hans asked.

“If you’re not moving you’re not losing property value, not for that reason anyway,” Hough continued. “Unfortunately, drowning is not rare. Fortunately, memory is short. Whatever your residents decide to do about the pool is really your own business. If you vote to discontinue it, it’s just a normal amendment or two to the docs. If you keep it, draining, cleaning, a bit of paint, and some replacement signs and equipment – just for your own peace of mind to meet the standard – and you’re done, basically.”

“Life goes on,” Mrs. James concluded, quietly annoyed that they’d just spent a lot of money to discover a platitude.

“In other words, Mrs. James.”

“While we’re still on the subject of the pool,” Earnest consulted his notes, “there was also a question raised about installing one of those closed cameras? That’s not part of the standard care?”

“No. If you operate a CCTV, where will you put it? Just for the pool, or for the entrances as well? It’s not a requirement but the implication is that someone will be attending to it. Would you hire someone else? Your concierge is only full time isn’t he, not 24/7, like your recreation amenities? Or, you might consider limiting the times of pool use. There’s nothing to say you can’t hire a lifeguard for those hours. Any decisions like this would affect the monthly fees, of course.”

There goes the budget, thought Hans.