Thu, Mar 08, 2018 - Page 13 News List

How a fear of ghosts leads to callous acts

Homeowners are committing all manner of heartless acts to avoid their homes becoming haunted, and this is bearing a direct impact on the housing and insurance market

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff reporter

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

When a news anchor surnamed Shih (史) committed suicide by asphyxiation in his rented apartment in 2014, the owner, surnamed Wang (王), sued the newsman’s wife and parents for NT$6 million.

Wang claimed that Shih should have known that his suicide would result in the unit’s market value to plummet, and that he should have taken his life elsewhere. Wang lost the case in March 2016, when a Taipei District Court judge ruled that Shih’s parents and wife were not liable because he had a documented history of depression.

Wang has appealed the ruling to the High Court, which is still reviewing the case.

Had the death occurred before 2008, Wang could have kept the suicide to himself and sold the apartment at market value (though the death was covered extensively by the media). But in July of that year, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) amended housing contracts to include the question: Has an unnatural death occurred in the home for sale?

Lisa Yeh (葉凱禎), a lawyer, writes in the article, “How to legally define xiongzhai,” (怎麼定義法律上認定的凶宅?) that the MOI defines murder and suicide as unnatural deaths, which means that even if Lo had died passing through Lin’s home, he wouldn’t be legally obligated to state it to any prospective buyers.

The MOI’s additional wording places the burden of responsibility on the homeowner. Failure to inform prospective buyers that an unnatural death has occurred in the property for sale can lead to a fine, the seller having to take back the property and compensate the buyer, or both. If the seller intentionally deceives the buyer, they might even go to jail.

In a 2009 case, Lee Chiong-chi (李炯祺) was sentenced to eight months in prison after Chang Teng-yu (張?煜) proved that Lee deceptively sold him a xiongzhai in New Taipei City’s Luzhou District (蘆洲), according to a report in The Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper).

Yeh says that although the law is clear, buyers should always do their due diligence to ensure that the home they are about to purchase isn’t a xiongzhai.

“The consumer can avoid hassles,” she writes, “by talking to those who know the community where the home is located — neighbors, police and real estate agents.”

But herein lies a problem. It only takes one neighbor to describe a death as “unnatural” to convince a prospective buyer that they do not want to be associated with a property’s perceived association with the pollution of death.

Some people are so concerned that they will insist that paramedics perform emergency treatment away from their homes, as happened in December, when a 68-year old Taitung man shooed away paramedics, saying “don’t give emergency medical treatment on my doorstep,” according to the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper).

The person he was referring to had just suffered a heart attack.

And it’s not only homeowners who are concerned with malevolent ghosts. Although sellers are obligated to state whether or not an “unnatural death” has occurred in the home they are listing, landlords are not held to the same standard.

A 27-year old woman surnamed Lin (林) moved with her dog into an apartment in New Taipei City. Over the course of the following few days, she claimed that her normally quiet dog would not stop barking. Concerned, she spoke to her neighbors who told her that a man had recently committed suicide in the apartment. Angered, Lin sued the landlord, but the prosecutor refused to hear the case because, according to the law, the landlord isn’t obligated to inform prospective renters that an unnatural death has occurred.

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