“If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost” ― Henry Ward Beecher
As of 2013, in the United Kingdom, it is estimated that 3.3 million “ghost tenants” are occupying privately rented homes, that is occupants of rented homes that are not listed on the tenancy agreement, from live-in-lovers to friends who have nowhere else to stay. I suspect most landlords are willing to look the other way, given the state of the worldwide economy, and with the assurance that the rent gets paid on time. Landlords are simple people. Money-grubbing parasites, but simple people nonetheless. While I happen to live in Los Angeles these days (the “City of Angels”, marked by the conspicuous absence of anything reasonably termed “angelic”), I still own my first home of many years a few miles north of New York City. I don’t want to own it. I just can’t sell it without losing bushels of cash, having purchased it just prior to the complete collapse of the U.S. housing market. Plus, I have a certain nostalgic attachment to it. Consequently, I rent to a charming and responsible local family, at a loss (rent does not equal mortgage + taxes), but I can’t reasonably ask for more in this market, and I’m not interested in becoming a slumlord). I get to keep equity already sunk in the home and help out some decent folks who temporarily fell on hard times. Of course, this is neither here nor there to my insurance company that happily doubled my home insurance rates. Nor the IRS, who are equally happy to take a slice of the rental income.
Now there has always been a distinction between “ghost tenants” and “tenant ghosts”. The former are simply legal non-entities. The latter are presumably, dead. When both your rental lease and your lease on life expire, yet you still reside in a domicile, you have the status of a spectral squatter, and possession being nine-tenths of the law, if you’ll excuse the pun, the responsible landlord these days (in many U.S. jurisdictions, at least) probably has at least an ethical responsibility to inform potential tenants that they may have unruly phantasmagoric room-mates.
When we invented civilization, probably a step we now wish to reconsider, human society started clustering the masses into tighter and tighter units, cramming them into urban centers where you could keep a better eye on them, centralizing services, and pooling the labor force you needed to build large-scale public works and architectural wonders that re-affirmed the awesomeness and foresight of the God King-du jour. About 200,000 years of bad hygiene means that when you cram folks together, lots more of them die from nasty diseases that can be more readily communicated. So, you’ve got a lot of real-estate available in a relatively small space, and an ongoing influx of the downtrodden looking to get those higher salaries in the city, not to mention the nice short life spans from the rapid spread of communicable diseases (or starvation, since somebody else owns all the food), getting run over by chariot traffic, or just plain urban crime. Hence, lots of dead people packed into relatively small spaces.
Modern jurisprudence has stumbled upon the concept of “karmically-impacted” real estate, and many jurisdictions consider failure to disclose haunting as a breach of contract. You may be surprised to learn that the legal ramifications of hauntings have been in serious contention among jurists for a long time. The case of Pierre Piquet (landlord) vs. Giles Bolacre (tenant) was a courtroom drama enacted before the Parliament of Paris in the 16th Century, and illustrates some of the finer points of the pitfalls of leasing and occupying a haunted house from a contractual perspective.
It was just another day in 16th Century Tours, France. AirBnB hadn’t been invented yet, so landlord Pierre Piquet decided to rent his property in suburban Tours to Gilles Bolacre, Daniel Macquereau and a minor in Bolacre’s charge named Nicholas. Continental Europe kind of sucked in the 16th Century. The Wars of Reformation were afoot with Catholics and Protestants carrying on complex theological debates with extreme prejudice by knocking each other over the head, the middle classes were starting to make noise about their lack of political voice, and the aristocrats were feeling uppity as they’d lost some of their power and authority. This is the sort of stuff that leads to civil wars, revolutions, and all manner of class-based strife and knitting before the guillotines. And as if the general atmosphere of France wasn’t tense enough, then you had the ghosts. Tours itself managed to avoid the nastier aspects of the reformation and counter reformation, but this did not prevent some nasty accusations promulgated against Calvinists money-lenders that would wipe out debts if only they could be burned at the stake.
Gilles Bolacare, Daniel Macquereau, and Nicholas Macquereau took up residence in their newfound Tours residence, ready to settle down to a peaceful life in the suburbs, and they discovered that their humble domicile was already occupied by all manner of ghosts and goblins. Basically, a tangle of preternatural critters made an enormous ruckus every night, and the residents were consequently unable to get a good nights rest.
Gilles Bolacre, a man who lived in a house in a suburb of Tours, where he claimed that he withed to abandon due to the spirits that prevented him from sleeping. It was in the sixteenth century. He had rented this house; and as he moved in, and quickly discovered a noise and tangle of invisible spirits, lutins and goblins, which left him no rest, thus he was anxious to have his lease annulled. The cause was brought before the courts at Tours, which broke the lease (de Plancy, 1863, p108).
The gist of Bolacre’s argument was that “That they did not spend much time in the house, as they felt the noise or din of unseen spirits that did not leave them room in any way to sleep and rest. The courts in Tours broke the lease, admitting that there could be places inhabited by supernatural beings” (Dupouy, 1898, p278).
Now, it wasn’t easy to break a lease in Tours. Obviously, landlord Pierre Piquet objected to this abridgment of the rental agreement, and was incensed when the judge in Tours ruled that the inhabitancy of raucous spirits represented an undeniable nuisance and therefore merited cancelling the lease. Contract law was a little funky in 16th Century France, and it turns out that it was awfully difficult to annul a lease agreement without “Royal Letters”. Thus, Pierre Piquet appealed to a higher court, in this case, the Court of Parliament in Paris, who took the stance that there was something fishy going on.
In the Court of Parliament of Paris, as the ruling was written and issued on inquest by the inferior court, to plead as by verbal appellation, it was necessary that the appellants declared that they had learned the facts of the respondent–so that it remained only to decide the point of the appropriate rights, that is if the spirits haunted a house, a lease could be made, and if the lease could be broken and anulled without letters from the Prince. The adjudicants who pled the cause were Maistre René Chopin for the appellants and Msr. Naupour for the defendants (Le-Loyer, 1608, p658).
René Chopin, the lawyer for Pierre Piquet, was himself an interesting dude and celebrated jurist, “born at Bailleul in Anjou, in 1537. He was advocate in the parliament of Paris, where he pleaded for a long time with great reputation. He at last shut himself up in his closet; and composed many works. His attachment to the league caused him, in 1594, to be sentenced to banishment, but the sentence was not executed. On the day when Henry IV entered Paris, his wife, through party rage, went mad. He is said commonly to have studied lying on the ground, with his books round him. He died under an operation for the stone in 1606. He wrote the Customs of Anjou; a Treatise de Domania; De Sacra Politica Monastica; and The Customs of Paris, the whole consisting of 6 volumes” (Platts, 1825, p349). Chopin opened up with a disdainful perspective on the existence of monsters and ghosts.
Maitre Chopin laughed at the bare idea of noisy spirits. This is notable because, in an age when witches were burned frequently, the idea of a haunted house could be treated by the learned counsel as a mere waggery. Yet the belief in haunted houses has survived the legal prosecution of witches. ‘The judge in Tours has merely and mischievously encouraged superstition.’ All ghosts, brownies, and lutins, are mere bugbears of children; here Maitre Chopin quotes Plato, and Philo Judmus in the original, also Empedocles, Marcus Aurelius, Tertullian, Quintilian, Dioscorides. Perhaps Bolacre and his family suffer from nightmare. If so, a physician, not a solicitor, is their man. Or again, granting that their house is haunted, they should appeal to the clergy, not to the law. Manifestly this is a point to be argued. Do the expenses of exorcism fall on landlord or tenant? This, we think, can hardly be decided by a quotation from Epictetus. Alexis Comnenus bids us seek a bishop in the case of psychical phenomena. So Maitre Chopin argues, but he evades the point. Is it not the business of the owner of the house to have his own bogie exorcised? Of course Piquet and Macquereau may argue that the bogie is Bolacre’s bogie, that it ﬂitted to the house with Bolacre; but that is a question of fact and evidence. Chopin concludes that a lease is only voidable in case of material defect, or nuisance, as of pestilential air, not in a case which, after all, is a mere vice d’esprit. Here Maitre Chopin sits down, with a wink at the court, and Nau pleads for the tenant. First, why abuse the judge at Tours? The lessors argued the case before him, and cannot blame him for credulity. The Romans, far from rejecting such ideas (as Chopin had maintained), used a ritual service for ejecting spooks, so Ovid testiﬁes. Greek and Roman hauntings are cited from Pliny, Plutarch, Suetonius; in the last case (ghost of Caligula), the house had to be destroyed, like the house at Wolﬁee where the ghost,resenting Presbyterian exorcism, killed the Rev. Mr. Thomson of Southdean, father of the author of The Castle of Indolence. ‘As to Plato, cited by my learned brother, Plato believed in hauntings, as we read in the Phaedo,’ Nau has him here. In brief, ‘the defendants have let a house as habitable, well knowing the same to be infested by spirits’. The Fathers are then cited as witnesses for ghosts. The learned counsel’s argument about a vice d’esprit is a pitiable pun (Lang, 1901, p270-272).
It seems the case ultimately turned on a more procedural point, despite the reasonable questions on the responsibilities of the landlord as it related to ghosts and bugbears. The defense attorney managed to obtain “letters royal” that declared the lease null and void in favour of Bolacre and the Macquereaus, while in actual fact “the higher Court decided in favour of the landlord” (Annals of Psychical Science, 1907, p489), at least in so far as suggesting that ghosts causing a nuisance in a leased home were not an adequate reason for breaching a rental contract. One gets the feeling that everyone just wanted the case to go away, so they could get back to more pressing matters like burning witches.
These days, it seems that if your poltergeist isn’t too demonstrative, renting a haunted house may be a cash cow. You can at least get on a reality TV show or write a tell-all book. The truth is, we should all be a lot more concerned with the legal rights of phantom tenants as we may all find that one day we are on the other side of the equation. As Joseph Jefferson observed, “We are only tenants, and shortly the great Landlord will give us notice that our lease has expired”.
Lang, Andrew, 1844-1912. Cock Lane and Common-sense. London: Longmans, Green, 1901.
Lang, Andrew. “Ghosts Before the Law”. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine v155. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1894.
“The Legal Status of Phantoms”. Annals of Psychical Science v5. London, 1907.
Collin de Plancy, J.-A.-S. 1794-1881. Dictionnaire Infernal: Répertoire Universel, Des Êtres, Les Personnages, Les Livres, Les Faits Et Les Choses Qui Tiennent Aux Esprits, Aux Démons, Aux Sorciers, Au Commerce De L’enfer, Aux Divinations, Aux Maléfices, a La Cabale Aux Autres Sciences Occultes, Aux Prodiges, Aux Impostures, Aux Supersititons Diverses, Et Aux Pronostics, Aux Faits Actuels Du Spiritisme, Et Généralement À Toutes Les Fausses Croyances Merveilleuses, Surprenantes, Mystérieuses Et Surnaturelles. 6e éd., augm. de 800 articles nouv. Paris :bH. Plon, 1863.
Dupouy, Edmond, 1838-. Sciences Occultes Et Physiologie Psychique. Paris: Société d’éditions scientifiques, 1898.
de la Brosse Le-Loyer, S. Discours des spectres ou visions et apparitions d’esprits. 8 livres 2. Ed. Buon, 1608.
Platts, John, 1775-1837. A Universal Biography: Containing Interesting Accounts, Critical And Historical, of the Lives And Characters, Labours And Actions, of Eminent Persons In All Ages And Countries, Conditions And Professions: Classed According to Their Various Talents And Pursuits : And Arranged In Chronological Order : Showing the Progress of Men And Things, From the Beginning of the World to the Present Time : to Which Is Added an Alphabetical Index for Reference. London: Sherwood, Jones & Co., 1825.