Haunted Houses & Renters Rights

by Philip Erdman

Michele Callan and her fiancé, Josue Chinchilla are a New Jersey couple that are suing their landlord for their $2,250 deposit on a Toms River home that they claim is haunted. They have claimed that they are the victims of various forms of paranormal activity, including menacing voices, flickering lights, moving bedsheets, and clothing flying from their closet. Chinchilla even went as far as telling ABC News that he did not believe in this type of stuff, but was forced to once he felt an invisible hand on his shoulder and had to go to the hospital briefly because of the paranormal experience.

The couple and her two children claim that they fled the Lowell Avenue rental and have been living in a single room at a motel in Point Pleasant Beach and they refuse to move back as their lives are in mortal danger if they return. The couple’s landlord, Richard Lopez, does not believe the story. He is countersuing the couple and believes they are creating a hoax to get out of paying $1,500 a month and to break the year lease they have signed. The landlord’s lawyer believes that because Michele is a single mom, she must be over her head and unable to afford the monthly payments.

Callan countered the lawyer’s claims by explaining that Chinchilla and her children fled only one week after moving in and that they already paid the entire first month, so if anything, they are losing money right now.

The article goes on to reveal exactly why tenants need the protection of landlord disclosure of potentially haunted residences before they sign their lease: “In any case, if Lopez had consciously rented the couple a home with any shady or ghost-ridden history, he wouldn’t have had to reveal it. Most states in the United States do not have formal renter/seller disclosure laws regarding a home’s non-material facts (i.e. outside structural concerns, leaks in the foundation or walls, etc.) and do not require Realtors to tell prospective buyers about a home’s grisly past or purported hauntings, though that’s strongly recommended.

There was such disclosure in the case of the Lutz family, who moved into the now world famous Amityville Horror house in New York and were supposedly haunted by the demonic images and supernatural activity of the home’s murdered tenants.

But there was apparently no warning for the Callas-Chinchilla household: they reportedly were so spooked that they even hired paranormal investigators, who set up five cameras, electronic voice phenomena recorders and electromagnetic field meters in the rental. The Asbury Park Press reported that the presence of paranormal activity appeared in the videos, including bowling pins falling over in the recreation room while the infrared cameras were recording.”

The ABC News interview and following notes clearly show why there is a problem when a landlord knows that they are renting out an apartment or house, knowing that it is haunted and they refrain from telling the potential buyers even after they sign their lease. This creates situations like the one in the article above. Had the landlord disclosed the residence’s haunted past then the renters would never have signed the lease and would not be stuck with a $1,500 a month bill for a place that they do not even live anymore. The rent, plus the security deposit comes out to about a $20,000 loss for the renters by the end of a year, that is almost just as bad as purchasing a home only to find out it is haunted or has a haunted history and then losing money on the sale of the home because all the locals know its history and will not pay your asking price.

Because renting an apartment or house that is haunted produces the same if not worse consequences then the purchase of a haunted house (you can at-least rent out the house and recoup some of your loss) and people who are living in apartments may not have the financial means to seek out another apartment, which would result in the burden of paying two leases each month, there should be laws in place to protect them.

Link to story: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/04/family-flees-haunted-house-sues-landlord/

 

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5 thoughts on “Haunted Houses & Renters Rights

  1. I had to suspend my incredulity to appreciate this article fully (and remain in disbelief that this is actually moving through the legal system). As I have yet to see evidence convincing me that anything “paranormal” is real, I do not put any credence in the renters’ claims that they have been forced from the property due to its being haunted. The most I might concede is that homeowners deserve to be alerted of haunting allegations, due to its potential negative effect on resale values. However, I remain uncomfortable with that since I do not feel that people’s gullibility in believing in nonexistent ghosts should negatively impact anyone else’s finances. The unfortunate reality is that this can affect home values, and may unfortunately create yet another regulation involved in real estate, with additional forms to initial and sign.

    If the renters prevail in this case, I worry that it creates a quite slippery slope: are those living in properties under purported curses or hexes next?

  2. So my one question would be why in your closing argument you decided to say that the difference between renting a haunted property and owning it is that you can chose to then rent it to others. It under minds your principle that being it should not be tolerable for someone to rent if they know their property is rented.
    I suppose what you’re trying to present is some kind of blacklisted property registry, but unfortunately then that would be an issue to neighborhood property values.
    Was there any middle ground that the couple was willing to go with, be it a nearby unit on the same property to some kind of exorcism? There simply isn’t enough affordable housing to condemn haunted properties. Aside from a disclosure and allowing renters to be break lease without penalty, has anyone come up with a solution that would benefit the community rather than leave a mark that depreciates it?

    • This article is interesting and like Kim I am having some difficulty appreciating the couple position. Also, what proof do you have that the landlord had any knowledge of the alleged paranormal activities? Is there a history? Did previous renters report similar concerns? If so than there should be so legal consideration. However, I am in agreement that full disclosure should include information beyond structural like if a murder, death, and some other unusual event occurred in a property for sale or rent.

  3. This article and cases like these particularly interest me, because there has yet to be any real evidence that paranormal activity is real. I do not understand how someone can claim that a house is haunted and get away with a law suit out of it. How is this proven? This seems like it is going to be an ongoing problem if the renters case prevails. I feel like a lot of people are going to start claiming there homes are haunted and get away with it. Especially because I don’t think a lot of people are even aware of the fact that you can make a case out of a ‘haunted’ house.

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