When Relationships and Real Estate Collide

by Nena Perry-Brown

A few years ago, UrbanTurf posted an article about the complicated side of making joint property purchases within an unmarried relationship. Our advice at the time was that anyone planning to buy property with a mate draft a written agreement beforehand to determine how the property will be treated in case of a break-up. But what if there is no such written agreement?

Recently, a reader asked whether an ex-girlfriend whose name isn’t on the deed has ownership rights of a house they purchased together.

“I bought a house in 2006 [with the] title and deed in my name, however at the time, my now ex-girlfriend gave me $25,000 for the down payment as she was moving in with her three kids.

The relationship has been over for over four years now and although she did treat it like her home while she was there, she now will not leave as she feels the house is 50 percent hers. I was willing to pay her back the $25,000 and anything else she has receipts for, but does she have ownership rights?”

As this matter is somewhat beyond the scope of simple real estate law, UrbanTurf reached out to family law attorney Michele Zavos.

“In general, when someone is not on the deed to real property, she does not have an ownership interest in that property,” Zavos explained. “However, a contribution to the purchase of the property may create a claim to some portion of the property, depending on the jurisdiction and exact facts of how the contribution was made.”

“There is also the question of what other contributions the ex may have made to maintaining the property and increasing its value. Your ex does not have a right to remain in the house unless she has some sort of written lease.” Zavos noted that this is a general answer about the law rather than being intended as legal advice and recommended that the owner contact an attorney.

Break-ups are never easy and are all the more frustrating when cutting ties involves complicated issues like division of property and who has the rights to what. Ultimately, however, it would be best to seek the advisement of a lawyer who can speak to your particular circumstances and give you your options for recourse — and always get everything in writing beforehand.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/when_relationships_and_real_estate_collide/12033

1 Comment

  1. marj said at 9:32 pm on Tuesday January 10, 2017:
    IF the property is in DC, and IF the claim is that the girlfriend does not have an ownership interest but she is still in the property, she likely has TOPA rights, arguably equivalent to ownership rights. This opens the door to playing out the situation in a variety of interesting ways.

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