Landlord failed to disclose prior tenant was suspected serial killer

By Jennifer Felten

Landlord’s Failure to Disclose Prior Events at a Property may Give Tenant Grounds to Terminate their Tenancy

Disclosure, or the lack thereof, in residential real estate transactions is the source of the vast majority of disputes arising from such transactions. Unlike other areas of the law where the concept of caveat emptor or “buyer beware” is still alive, in residential real estate transactions the rule is one of disclose everything you know or should know, and maybe even more. This rule goes for sellers, real estate agents and landlords.

This being the case, a residential tenant in St. Louis was shocked when she received a call from a relative asking her if she knew the history of the property she was renting. Having received no disclosure about the house that would lead to concern, she didn’t know how to respond when the relative told her that they had seen the house on an A&E Network television show about serial killers.

As the A&E program documented, one of the prior tenants of the property was an accused serial killer, Maury Travis, aka the “Street Walker Strangler.” According to accounts, Travis was suspected of killing women in a secret torture chamber in the basement of the property now being occupied by the tenant. At least one videotape of Travis torturing and murdering some of his victims was found in a search of the property at the time of his arrest. The evidence obtained clearly indicates his involvement in at least two murders but during his statements made at or around his arrest he acknowledged at least seventeen murders.

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The landlord was Sandra Travis, the mother of the accused killer.

Alarmed by the news, the tenant contacted the landlord and requested to be let out of her lease. The landlord refused, telling the tenant that she had to honor the lease she signed. The tenant, unwilling to take no for an answer in this circumstance, sought the assistance of the local housing authority to obtain relieve from the lease. Through their intervention the landlord apparently realized that she would be unable to enforce the lease due to her failure to disclose past events at the property. As such, she released the tenant from her obligations under the lease.

Tavis was never prosecuted for his alleged crimes because he committed suicide in jail after being arrested. As for the landlord, her desire not to disclose may be due in part to the fact that she didn’t want to dredge up bad memories, Tavis being her son and all. Notwithstanding, her failure to disclose was clear grounds for termination of the tenancy in this case.

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Jennifer Felten, Esq., Partner, felton, LLP, www.hhlawgroup.com, 699 Hampshire Road, Suite 105, Westlake Village, CA 91361, (805) 265-1031, [email protected].  Ms. Felten specializes in representing both individuals and legal entities, providing representation and guidance on a variety of real estate related matters.

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