Renters, buyers often kept in dark about past deaths inside homes

In a four-month period, three homicides took place inside the same Austin apartment unit. Two of those deaths happened throughout the weekend, and the other was a separate homicide in October 2013. The suspect charged in that crime even told police the unit was haunted.

As a prospective homebuyer or someone looking for a new apartment, what do you have a right to know? Does anyone have to tell you about whether someone was killed or died in  home?

KXAN found out the Texas Property Code does not have many rules when it comes to requiring realtors or sellers to tell you if a death happened, and with apartments there are even fewer laws.

Justin Lyan lives right above Apartment 88 at the Orange Tree Condos — the same unit number where a University of Texas student was found shot, stabbed and mutilated in 2005.

“It definitely scared me,” Lyan said, “Because no one wants to live where someone got murdered.”

But he didn’t find out the news from property owners, but instead from friends and research after he already moved in.

“No, they didn’t say anything, which was kind of did surprise me,” he said. “It was pretty gruesome, and yeah a really scary story.”

Texas property codes only require a seller or realtor to disclose a death if the property caused the death, such as a roof collapse. When it comes to apartments, property managers are not required by law to give any information, and realtors say many times they’re never told either.

“For the most part, apartment complexes don’t openly disclose anything that might reflect negative on them,” said Chris Zaiontz, with 24th Street Realty.

Zaiontz says he recommends buyers ask as many questions as possible and urges residents to research so they can avoid living in the wrong place, especially with apartments.

“It’s something that people don’t ask about,” he said. “A lot of apartments now, between websites and Google, have information out there. Take an extra five minutes to read reviews, maybe ask a resident who lives there.”

The Texas Association of Realtors says while the laws don’t require it, they do recommend realtors disclose that information if they know something.

According to TAR’s Seller’s Disclosure Notice, homeowners who are selling their home have to answer a question about if any nonaccidental deaths happened. But if the seller answers “yes” they are not required to explain in great detail the circumstances surrounding the death.

However, there are resources available, such as the website Died in House — where users can search a database to see if anyone has died at a particular address.

Justin Lyan says this experience has taught him to do extensive research before signing any other leases.

“I mean, definitely, I would want to know,” he said. “If it was my place, I wouldn’t have lived here, you know?”

Texas law does require home sellers to tell prospective buyers if methamphetamine was previously made on that property. This is a concern because toxic chemicals from labs can remain in homes and make people sick for years afterward.

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