The Common Law

Selling My Home – Disclose Death by Natural Causes?

My dad had a heart attack and passed away in his home. I inherited the home, and now I am trying to sell it on my own without hiring a Realtor. Someone told me that I have to disclose to potential buyers the fact that a death occurred in the house. Is that right?

Not in your case. Texas law requires the seller of a property to disclose many things, including structural defects and latent (hidden) defects. This is done by having the seller of the home fill out a Seller's Disclosure of Property Condition form, which is given to the potential buyer. Texas law does not, however, require disclosure of all deaths that have occurred in the house for sale.

Section 5.008(c) of the Texas Property Code states: "A seller or seller's agent shall have no duty to make a disclosure or release information related to whether a death by natural causes, suicide, or accident, unrelated to the condition of the property, occurred on the property." Accordingly, your father's heart attack would be considered death by a natural cause, and you would not be required to disclose it.

The major exception to this would be if the death was somehow related to the condition of the property. While this is unlikely when for a death by natural cause, it could be more likely for an accidental death. For example, if someone dies from an accidental discharge of a firearm, this death would be unrelated to the condition of the property, and Texas law would not require that the death be reported. Alternatively, if someone died from an accidental fall down a dangerous stairwell on the property, disclosure of this death would be required if the stairwell remained an existing condition at the time of sale.

If you are selling your own house without a Realtor, you should also be aware that the law may require you to make additional disclosures. For example, if you are selling a house built prior to 1978, you would be required to comply with the federal Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, which requires the seller to disclose all lead-based paint and hazards in the house. For more resources and information on seller's disclosures, look at the Texas Real Estate Commission (www.trec.state.tx.us – go to Forms, Laws, Contracts main page) and Chapter 5 of the Texas Property Code.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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