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If a cemetery was once on your property and the bodies were supposed to have been re-interred elsewhere, it can have disastrous consequences if you’re doing some building and dig up some old bones.
Here’s why. Anna and Mike bought a property in Ontario and planned to build a new home there. Halfway through construction, the remains of two bodies were found. It turns out that the property was once owned by a church and the church had a cemetery. When the congregation moved in 1861, the bodies were supposed to have been moved to another cemetery.
They missed some. Now construction has ground to a halt.
It turns out that, in 1999, bodies were discovered nearby when local municipal workers were installing a waterline. The church hired a private contractor to move the graves so that a rail line could be built through the area.
In the meantime, the municipality issued a building permit to Anna and Mike and did not warn them about what they might find.
According to the Registrar of Cemeteries, under the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services which administers the Ontario Funeral Burial and Cremations Services Act, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to fix the problem. The costs include an archaeological assessment to determine how many bodies might still be buried and moving the bones elsewhere for between $500 and $1,000 each.
In this case, the lawsuits have not started yet as to whether this should be the responsibility of the church, which sold the property long ago, the municipality or the owners. It is hoped that the situation can still be worked out amicably.
There is an Ontario government website under the Ministry of Consumer Services where anyone can search to see if there ever was a cemetery registered on their lands. You can enter the street address, the lot, plan, concession, Municipality and County. Here is the link
There is also a list of burial sites, which may not be accurate or complete, that can be accessed by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Most developers will have their lawyers conduct these searches when buying vacant land that they wish to build on. They may also require that an archaeological assessment be done if there is any suspicion that there were bodies interred on the lands at one point.
If a seller knows that there may have been a cemetery or burial plot on their lands in the past, then in my opinion, it should always be disclosed to any buyer. It probably creates a stigma on the property, whether or not the bodies were moved elsewhere.
If you are not sure, also include a clause in any real estate contract that the seller has no knowledge of any cemetery or burial plot having existed on the land. A seller must respond honestly to this, if they know.
Thanks to Mark Weisleder for this fascinating, if a little gruesome, piece of information.
Mark’s Contact Information
Mark Weisleder is a Partner, author and speaker at the law firm Real Estate Lawyers.ca LLP.
Contact him at email@example.com or 1.888.876.5529