When One Partner Owns the House – What To Know

Lately, I have been receiving a flurry of questions around the topic “what happens when one partner owns the house?” The way I have been bombarded with the questions, I realized many people are dealing with these issues and need answers. 

When you own a house by yourself, you paid your mortgage, or are still paying; there are no complications.

You know what to and what not to do. However, it becomes tricky and sometimes tacky when one partner owns the home and a partner moves in; what are their rights?

In a civil partnership or marriage, the laws that guide living together are pretty straightforward. Even when the deposit for the house and mortgage repayments are all under one partner’s name, the ownership and equity of the property are usually shared between both parties.

Although the sharing arrangement is not often straightforward 50/50 still, the law does recognize the partners.

The bigger challenge is when you already own your house and live with you on a permanent arrangement? What right do they have since they live there and pay maintenance and other recurring bills? What about instances where they pay rent or share in the repayment of the mortgage?

These are some of the questions I got that I want to address them here. I feel the best approach would be to go by a question and answer method for this one. 

What are the legal rights of a cohabiting partner?

Cohabiting means living together as a couple without religious or legal sanction. It could also simply mean to dwell or share the same space.

When you own your house 100%, and you and your partner decide it’s time for them to move in, their rights are usually unclear as a tenant, lodger, or tenant.

However, they are not entirely without rights because you own the property 100%. Their right to have some claim on your property depends on the following factors;

Beneficial Interest

For the avoidance of going into lengthy legal jargon, what this means is if your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner whom you live with, makes any form of financial contribution to the property or improves the value of the property substantially, they may be deemed qualified to share from the proceeds of the property.

Also, they might earn the right to continue to live in the property even if you want them thrown out. 

For instance, if your living partner contributed to the deposit or down payment for a mortgage, they may be able to claim beneficial interest.

In some instances, even a simple loft conversion or a major renovation on the property can be counted as beneficial interest.

Even when you own the property with only your name on the title deed, your living-in partner or anyone who has contributed to the improvement of the property value can claim Beneficial Interest. 

Family Law

Another way your partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend can have a claim to the proceeds of the property you fully own is by Family Law.

For example, suppose legal guardians or parents to a child or children live on your property. In that case, a family court might rule in their favor as a necessity for the children’s interest, notwithstanding that you are the sole owner of the house. 

Cohabitations Agreement

The best way to ensure all parties living together are on the same page is having a Cohabitation Agreement, aka Living Together Agreement.

This document will cover issues about the property and the children involved and all financial matters affecting the unmarried couples or partners cohabiting together. 

So, what exactly is a Cohabiting Agreement or a Living Together Agreement?

It’s a legal document that outlines how partners who live together will manage their relationship as far as the property is concerned. It also talks about how issues should be resolved in the case of a dispute.

A Living Together Agreement contains information like what your living-in partner is entitled to, like a share of the procedure or part of the property if your relationship breaks down at any point. 

Also, it contains other details like financial contributions for a mortgage, maintenance, damage, insurance, utility bills, renovations, and many others. You may also include the duration for a partner to move out in the event of a breakdown in your relationship.

The agreement has to specify how and why they will get their entitlements, like before or after they have moved out.

While it’s true that Family and Property laws may overrule whatever agreement is contained in a Cohabitation agreement, it is always the best place to start.

With a written agreement, the court finds it easier to understand the intentions of all parties involved in the agreement and can use that in most cases in dispute resolution. 

Let’s face it, drafting and eventually signing a Cohabitation Agreement with someone you claim to love when you already own the property 100% is not mainly an easy thing. It is as strange as having a pre-nuptial agreement discussion.

If not properly managed, it can lead to trust issues between partners, boyfriends, or girlfriends. However, also consider that this agreement will protect the partner who owns the home and the partner who is coming to live with the homeowner. 

When is the best time to bring up the subject of the Cohabitation Agreement?

I will always suggest you have the agreement signed before the partners start living together. There can always be adjustments to the agreement when necessary.

Here are some of the topics contained in a Cohabitation Agreement:

  • Ownership type on the title and deed
  • Income and expenses sharing formula
  • How new assets are shared
  • Buyout agreement
  • Dispute resolution plans
  • Exit strategy

My boyfriend owns the house, why should I pay rent?

A young girl is moving in with her boyfriend, they're drinking coffee on the floor as they take a break from unpacking.

The writer further explained that the house is on a mortgage and expected to bear half the cost.

Although the idea of moving in with your boyfriend is nothing strange, it’s a norm now, but under the laws of several states, the house belongs to him alone.

As long as only his name continues to appear on the deed, your contribution might not give you any claim. Some states will not even award you a premarital claim to the asset. 

While this may sound strange, it may very well be your best option; treat all your housing expenses as if your boyfriend is your Landlord.

Sarah Asebedo, a Professor at Texas Tech University and President of the Financial Therapy Association, put it this way, “Approaching this arrangement from a landlord/tenant perspective may seem cold, but it is objective, straightforward, and meets the interests of both parties. The bottom line is that if your boyfriend owns the house, he bears all of the associated risks. These include a decline in the home’s market value, any expenses associated with its future sale, and necessary maintenance and upkeep.”

For all his troubles of solely bearing the risk and paying all the expenses, your boyfriend in improving the value of the property buy building equity, and he will likely sell the house someday for a better price.

According to Asebedo, “It’s not fair to expect to receive these returns if you are not bearing any of the risks. To justify asking for part of those returns, then you would need to become a joint owner and borrower of the property.”

The next phase you will need to worry about is how much to pay your boyfriend as “rent?”

Paying 50% of the mortgage might sound like the best way to go. However, a closer look will show it might not be a fair way to go.

As the property owner, your boyfriend should bear all costs related to ownership, including repairs, insurance, and home improvements. You need to check out the going cost of rent in that area and pay that for the duration of your time there.

If the relationship moves to the next level where your status changes to “married,” further adjustments can be made.

According to Clinton Gudmunson, a Professor of Family Studies at Iowa State University, “As a renter, you’re already paying part of the mortgage for whoever owns your home, so in that sense, nothing will change. You’re still paying for a place to live, and that’s worth any person’s money. This is just a slight shift in mindset.”

What is it called when two people own a property?

A jointly owned property is a situation where a property is in the name of two or more parties.

In a married setting, joint ownership of property is when the parties are husband and wife. The other type of joint ownership is when the parties are business partners or when people with a common interest come together to own a property.

A jointly owned property can be in several legal forms, including Joint Tenancy, Tenancy by the Entirety, Community Property, and Property in a Trust.

What happens to a house if the wife’s name is not on the deed and the husband dies?

In an unfortunate situation where you lose your husband, and it turns out your name is not on the title deed, you should still be able to retain the house as the surviving widow.

If your husband willed the house to you, then that’s straightforward. However, if he died intestate or leaves the house to another person, you can contest and make a claim through a probate court. 

Even when your late husband’s name is the only one on the title deed, as a surviving widow, you should be able to keep ownership of the property through his conferring title to you or through the right of survivorship in his will or by petitioning the probate court where there’s no will or where you feel the will have been unfair to you.

Do I have any right to continue living in our home after my relationship breaks down?

This is an interesting question that requires a detailed response because we have to consider the status of the property in question if it is rented or wholly owned by the partners.

Rented Property 

If you and your partner live in a rented house, but only his name is on the tenancy agreement, legally, you have no right to refuse to move out if they ask you to leave.

However, if your names both appear on the tenancy agreement, it simply means you have an equal right to live in the property.

So, if your relationship breaks down, you have to agree on who’s moving out, the cost implications, and other conditions. 

In some instances, the court may transfer tenancy. For example, you may want to transfer a joint tenancy to a sole partner’s name, but the Land has to agree to any change to the tenancy agreement before it becomes valid. 

It’s essential to enter a joint tenancy agreement with your partner, even if you move into a house they already owned. As long as you shoulder some responsibilities, try to have your name and signature on the legal document.

Owned Property

If both of you own the house you both live in, I’m talking about having your names on the title deed; then, you both have equal right to remain in the house even after your relationship breaks down. 

If your partner owns the house, then you have no right to insist on your continuous stay in the property if the owner asks you to move out after your relationship goes sour.

However, if you feel you have earned the right to live in the property, you can approach a court and get an “Occupation Order” claiming beneficial interest. In some instances, unmarried partners can get a court order granting them the right to continue to dwell in the property.

Bottom Line

You will notice how I have avoided talking about the emotional aspect of these matters; no doubt, it plays a vital role in our decisions. However, if you can manage to do everything by the book, you will end up just fine even if you are not the property owner.

As mentioned earlier, cohabiting is a norm all over the world now, so I will like to hear your story. Let’s learn from you as you talk to us in the comment section. 

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