On Nudists, Convicts and Ghosts – How Much Must a Seller Disclose to a Buyer?

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By Martin Rumack

February 21, 2017

Canadian Economy, Canadian Realestate, convicts, garbagedumps, ghosts, landslides, Toronto Realestate

On Nudists, Convicts and Ghosts – How Much Must a Seller Disclose to a Buyer?

I am often asked by sellers to advise as to how much (or how little) information they must provide to potential buyers.   It’s never an easy answer:  Although the time-honoured saying “buyer beware” still holds, in law the seller still has a legal obligation to disclose what are considered “latent” defects in the property that are related to certain physical condition or amenities.   These latent defects cover two categories:

  • defects that render the property unfit for habitation; and
  • defects which make the property inherently dangerous.

But applying this conceptual legal obligation to the real world can be difficult, especially when it’s applied to unique facts.  Here are some of the more interesting decisions from across Canada:


In Sevidal v. Chopra,[1] the seller had failed to disclose the existence of radioactive material that had been discovered prior to the closing date.  At the time the agreement was signed, the seller was aware that neighbouring properties were contaminated, but had no proof that his own was also affected until just prior to closing.  The court held in the buyer’s favour, finding that the seller had fraudulently concealed the hazard.

Garbage Dumps

In contrast, a case called Godin v. Jenovac[2] featured buyers who were astonished to learn after closing that their dream home was located next to what was formerly a garbage dump, a fact that they confirmed with the seller.  Their suit against the seller failed.   Although the seller would have had a duty to disclose the proximity to the former dump if it had been an actual health hazard, the mere fact that it might affect property values (and not the homeowners’ health) did not give rise to such a duty.


In a case called McGrath v. McLean,[3] the buyer was unsuccessful in suing a seller who had failed to disclose the history of landslides on the property.  The court ruled that the buyer had failed to established that they were caused by a defect in the land itself, rather than due to the activities of the neighbours.

Nude Beach

In Summach v. Allen,[4] the buyer had agreed to purchase certain beachfront property but then refused to close after finding out there was a nude beach next door.  (This had not been immediately evident because the agreement to purchase had been reached in November, when there were no beachgoers out on the beach).  The court found that the presence of nearby nudists may or may not be a defect; it would depend on the buyer.   The test was therefore too subjective to impose a disclosure obligation on sellers in these (admittedly unusual) circumstances.


In Knight v. Dionne,[5] the buyer wanted to rescind the deal because the seller had failed to disclose that there had been a suicide on the property – by seller’s own son, in fact.  The court found that in light of the reality that there were “happy, unhappy, and sometimes even tragic” events that occurred in everyone’s life, these would not have an impact on the intrinsic value of a house in which they occurred unless the buyer could prove otherwise.

Convicts as Neighbours

In an interesting case called Dennis v. Gray,[6] the court was asked to determine whether a family with young children should be allowed to go ahead with their damages claim against the seller who had failed to tell them that one of the neighbours had been convicted of child pornography offences.  Although the matter eventually settled out-of-court, it is an intriguing glimpse into how far a claim against a seller might conceivably go, in terms of allegations of non-disclosure in this context.


Perhaps surprisingly, even allegations that a house is haunted can give rise to legal questions around a duty to disclose.  In one case,[7]  the seller had been quoted in a local newspaper that the property was haunted, even though he admitted that he had never seen a ghost, and did not believe in them, and that any such comments on his part were never intended to be serious. Still, the buyer sued on the basis that the seller had failed to disclose that the property was haunted.  Both trial and appeal courts dismissed the case, finding that the buyer would not be able to prove the existence of those same ghosts that he relied on to claim there was a “defect” in the property he had purchased.

As these cases show, when it comes to determining what is or is not a latent defect, there are some “grey area” outcomes that are hard to predict.   This is why it’s important to consult with a lawyer prior to listing a property for sale; it’s also wise to do so – whether you are the buyer, the seller, or the agent representing the seller – long before the ink is dry on the agreement of purchase and sale.




[1] 1987 CanLII 4262 (Ont. H.C.J.)

[2] 1993 CarswellOnt 643

[3] 1979 CanLII 1691 (Ont. C.A.)

[4] 2002 BCSC 119

[5] 2006 QCQC 1260

[6] 2011 ONSC 1567

[7] 1784773 Ontario Inc. v. K-W Labour Association, 2013 ONSC 5401.

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