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Who's right? Homeowners vs. Squatters - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Who's right? Homeowners vs. Squatters

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BERLIN, Vt. -

Ralph and Sean Garbart are back in Vermont; they say it's where they want to be. Ralph just retired, and the couple is ready to move back to the state where they raised their children. They own a home in Berlin and are ready to leave their apartment in Connecticut. There's just one problem.

"I'm paying a mortgage, taxes and insurance on a house that I can't get into,” said Ralph Garbart, who worked as a principal in the Berlin school system before moving away.

When the Garbarts returned to their home in Berlin in early June, they say they found people already living there. The couple says those people identified themselves as squatters, people who move into vacant homes without the homeowners' permission.

For the last seven years, the Garbarts rented their home to various tenants. When the last family that signed a lease left, the couple returned expecting to find the home empty.

"We got to the house, and as we drove up, another car drove up, and it happened to be the person that was living there,” Ralph said. “He said I have a right to live there. I'm a squatter. I've been told I'm a squatter. Squatting is legal and I know my rights."

When we showed up at the home, the alleged squatters asked us to leave and they claimed to be the legal occupants. They said they signed a sublease with the previous tenants, something the homeowners say they never OK'd.

"It says here the tenant shall not sublet the whole, or part of the residence without the landlord's written consent,” Garbart said, pointing to his copy of the old lease.

Thomas Heilmann, the lead attorney for the Vermont Realtors Association, says police can normally remove squatters from the property, but their claim of a sublease complicates matters.

Meanwhile, Berline Police Sgt. Mark Montief said the case must be handled in civil court through a process that could take several months.

"The people currently residing there subletted, and the original lessee was failing to pay rent," Montief said over the phone. "The law states that they are tenants and need to be evicted."

The Garbarts have hired a lawyer to start the legal process, but they say they feel helpless.

"It's now costing a lot of money that I don't know how long I can do this,” Garbart finished.

Vermont law says a person must be on a property for 15 years before they obtain any legal rights as squatters but some will go so far as to produce fraudulent leases to complicate the legal process.

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