Home Ownership Affected by Soured Friendship

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“My best friend and I purchased a house four years ago as tenants-in-common.  We each put equal down payments, pay half of the mortgage, taxes and insurance (50/50).  I have had the exclusive use to live in the home with my son.  I have been and am solely responsible for all upkeep, repairs and upgrades.  My partner (no longer friend) now demands that I pay more money (to cover my exclusive use) or move out and rent the property for a loss.  This is my home and the agreement with her was that it was the place I was to raise my son until he was out of school.  He is now only 5! So far, we are current on our mortgage, although she has threatened to stop paying her half. I want to sell the property, take a loss and move on and away from this unreasonable person.  She does not want to sell as she will lose (and I will lose) our down payments.   Staying in business with her in any way scares me as she has changed all terms of our original agreement on a moments notice and terminated our friendship with the precedent to that happening.  I think it best to just get out of this total mess as the housing market is still going down and will not improve any time soon in our area. She has now threatened me with a May 15, 2012, eviction date and has told me she will be renting the house on June 1. Can she force me out? Can she rent the property without my permission? I am devastated by the loss of my home and friendship.  This is such a sad horrible situation. Thank you for any help you can give.”

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

First, unfortunately, this is an object lesson in why it is critical to have these sorts of agreements in writing.  If you had a written co-ownership agreement which specified that you had exclusive use of the property in exchange for being solely responsible for maintenance, then it would be relatively easy to hold your partner to it.  If the agreement was oral, then the fact that she “remembers it differently” makes it much harder to prove.  Not impossible: if you have documentation of your agreement, or even your past actions, you’ve got something to go on to challenge the moves she’s trying to make. But assuming you don’t have sufficient evidence, or don’t want to get into a protracted court battle, let’s talk about the general rules of co-ownership.  Generally, both co-owners have the right to the use of the entire property.  Which, as a practical matter, means that neither of you can kick the other one out (“ouster”)–but also means that she could put herself or a tenant in the property with you, which is probably not the way you want to live.

As a practical matter, the way that most co-ownerships get split up is because of your right to “partition.”  What that means is that either of you can petition a court to split up the co-ownership, and with a single-family home that generally means selling it and splitting the proceeds.  It rarely comes to that, however: because the result of the court proceeding is usually clear, both sides generally come to an agreement for one party to buy out the other or for putting the property on the market without having to actually go to court.

If your partner continues to be unreasonable, talk to a lawyer.  In my experience, unreasonable people tend to stop being so unreasonable once the danger of attorney fees comes up.  And if not, then you’re one step closer to the court order you need to get this person out of your hair.



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Author: House Attorney

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