Real Estate Matters: If your name is not on the title, you’ll have trouble claiming home ownership
Q: My niece lives in a home that is owned by her former boyfriend. The boyfriend had taken out a loan on the home, but she has been paying the loan, the taxes, utilities and has maintained the home for the last 20 years.
He has recently left her. She was wondering if the house rightfully belongs to her. She has tried and tried to contact him with no luck. What legal action can she take?
A: We feel bad for your niece. If your niece was never put on title to the home, she’s going to have trouble claiming ownership of the home.
Your niece should start by seeing whether she is on title to the property. She can go online or to the local office that handles the recording or filing of real estate documents where she lives. We hope that she discovers she is actually on title with her former boyfriend.
But, that’s just the beginning. Let’s say that she is on title with him. She may be a part owner of the home, but not the exclusive owner. If she’s on title with him, she shares ownership of the home with him. But just because he’s out of the picture now doesn’t give her the right to claim ownership of the entire property. She also can’t kick him off of title and claim his share as her own.
Still, we think you’ll agree that her being on title and having some level of ownership of the property is the best-case scenario.
Now, let’s play the other side and assume she is not on title to the property. And, let’s assume that her former boyfriend owns the entire home. She would have an even tough time trying to make a claim on the property.
Your niece should consult with an attorney that handles family law. That attorney may find something in her relationship or perhaps some documentation that might give her the right to an ownership interest in the property. Some states have laws that protect partners in long-term relationships.
It would be helpful if your niece has an email, a letter or some other written document that her former boyfriend sent her that discusses the ownership of the home. If she looks, perhaps she’ll find something in writing that shows his intent to have her own the property or to pay her back for the amount of cash she put into the maintenance and upkeep of the property and to pay the bills.
The attorney should consider whether she has any legal options and whether she is likely to prevail in court. We wish her luck.
For our other readers in similar situations: Unmarried partners who purchase property should always have a written agreement that spells out who is going to pay for what and what they will receive in return. While it’s tough to have the discussion upfront, it’s a lot easier than chasing a former partner on the other side.
(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through their website, bestmoneymoves.com.)
©2022 Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.