Thursday, August 22, 2013

Joint Tenancy in the Age of Cohabitation

What happens when an unmarried couple buys property and one of the parties walks away from the relationship and the other person stays in the home.  Benny Kass gives a brief primer:

In many states, you have the right to unilaterally convert the title into a tenant in common arrangement. This way, should you die, your heirs — pursuant to your last will and testament — will get your half of the house. [...]

I would have your lawyer send him a demand letter, telling him that unless he immediately signs a quit claim deed over to you, you will sue him for back payments that he should have been making.

Next, you can consider filing a partition lawsuit. Courts throughout this country have held that they will force the sale of property where two or more people want out of an ownership relationship, but one person is a holdout. This is time consuming and expensive, but what choice do you have?

Finally, if you are able to ultimately sell, the next question is: How will the sales proceeds be divided? You should take the position that since he refused to sign over the title to you, and has not made any payments for years, he should not be entitled to a windfall, such as any appreciation in the house.

Clearly, any improvements you have made — although they may have been done beyond the reach of the statute of limitations — increase the value of your house, and a court should take these facts into consideration when deciding who gets what.

Steve Clowney

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