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Haunted house or can't afford rent? Couple claims former, landlord says latter

A New Jersey couple is suing their landlord because they claim their rental home is haunted. WNBC's Brian Thompson reports.

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? In the case of Josue Chinchilla and Michele Callan, a lawyer.

The couple are suing their landlord, contending that they and Callan’s two children had to flee the Toms River, N.J., house they were renting because it was haunted. They want the landlord, Dr. Richard Lopez, an Ocean County orthodontist, to return a $2,250 security deposit the couple put down in February.

Lopez has filed a countersuit, saying the couple broke the terms of their one-year lease.

According to the Asbury Park Press, which first reported on the ghostly goings-on at the three-bedroom, 1,524-square-foot ranch house:

He claims the couple is using the specter of “paranormal activity” as a cover for personal financial troubles, which he contends have forced Chinchilla and Callan to conclude, after the fact, they cannot afford the $1,500 monthly rent.

Lopez’s attorney, David A. Semanchik, didn't immediately return a call from msnbc.com for comment. But he told the Asbury Park Press:

“Frankly, there is something else going on. She is a single mom, she has this fiancé living with her. I think she is in over her head and she can’t afford the rent. She needed to show her ex, the father of her kids, that she has a good place for them to live.”

But the couple contend their fright is real. They say that shortly after they moved in on March 1, they heard mysterious sounds coming from the basement, lights turned on and off by themselves, doors creaked open and slammed shut, and clothes and towels that were stored in closets somehow wound up on the floor. To top it off, an unknown force tugged at Chinchilla's sheets in bed one night, and Callan saw a dark apparition in the bedroom, they told the Asbury Park Press.

The couple even called in “ghostbusters” – the Shore Paranormal Research Society, a nonprofit team that investigates and tries to debunk claims of paranormal activity.

Nick Carlson, the paranormal group’s case manager, says a team set up video cameras, voice recorders and other detection tools in the half-century-old house and recorded some strange occurrences – including toy bowling pins falling down on their own (the video at left shows the camera of interest) and sounds of a woman’s laughter in unoccupied rooms.

But Carlson says he’s not ready to call the house “haunted.”

“There’s a big difference between ‘haunted’ and ‘paranormal activity,’" Carlson told msnbc.com on Tuesday.

“Paranormal means you have an occurrence that can’t be explained scientifically. Haunted? No, I do not think so. Do I think there’s stuff paranormal going on there? Absolutely.”

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Carlson wouldn’t offer an opinion on the merits of the couple’s lawsuit. But he says there was clearly something unexplained going on in the house.

“They’re afraid. And I don’t blame them for being afraid,” he said. “When things are happening in the comfort of your own home that you can’t control, you get scared. So I can’t blame them for leaving their own house.”

The couple has since moved into a motel. “This has been a horrific nightmare for us,” Callan told the newspaper.

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