What happens when two co-owners of a property, who are not married, cannot agree on what to do with the property? When one wants to keep it but the other wants to sell? This scenario is quite common when parties either inherit real property after the death of a parent or when two parties, often in a prior relationship, buy property together but then go their separate ways. It goes something like this:
Jack and Jill inherit property from their late mother. Jack, who lives in the property, says the property has sentimental value and does not want to sell it. Jill lives in New York, and she has no desire to keep the property nor rent it out. She wants to sell it immediately. Jack pays the taxes and the insurance on the property and all the maintenance. Jill wants nothing to do with it and forces Jack to make all the payments.
This issue is easily resolved in one of two ways: Jack can either buy out Jill’s 50% share and remain as the sole owner, or, if they cannot agree on the price or Jack does not have the money to buy Jill out, then they will need to file a partition lawsuit.
In a partition lawsuit, the party who wants to sell (Jill in this scenario) sues Jack for the court to order or “force” the sale of the property. The property would then be listed with a Realtor and, once a buyer is obtained, sold with Jack and Jill splitting the proceeds from the sale.
Questions arise, however, on whether Jack is entitled to be reimbursed for his share of all the expenses he made to the property. And typically, the answer is no since he reaped the benefits of living there and there was no agreement between them in writing.
It is very important when having any agreements regarding real estate that the agreements be in writing. That way, issues that arise down the line are easily resolved. In this case, without any such agreement, the parties may spend countless hours in court and pay attorney’s fees to then have a judge decide the fate of their late mother’s property.
Conflicts regarding property are not always best litigated. This could tie up the property in court for years. By hiring a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer, who can order an appraisal and negotiate the terms between the parties, a partition action can be avoided altogether. Sometimes, however, it cannot be avoided. And therefore, hiring a real estate lawyer who handles real estate litigation and has the experience necessary to then handle the closing is always your best bet.
Entering my 23rd year in practice, I have seen my share of family disputes over property. It is never pleasant to have family members suing one another, but if they cannot agree, then this often leaves us with no choice. As both a real estate transaction lawyer and a litigator, I am able to provide peace of mind to my clients that I can handle both the litigation and the closing of the property so that the same attorney familiar with all aspects of the case can see it to the end. And, as I always tell all my prospective clients, any time you are dealing with real estate, always hire a real estate lawyer. What you pay is nominal for peace of mind!