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Readers' Questions - Breaking up & housing...

We answer readers' questions about tricky situations to do with housing rights after a relationship ends.

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Dear Mary,
I was with my partner for nearly 7 years and we bought a house together 18 months ago. It is in our joint names and we decided to split. Excluding the wages that I earn, I put £15,000 inheritance and savings money into the house. He wanted to keep the house so asked what I wanted. I said my £15,000 and a cut of what the house is worth (we completely re-vamped the house and is now worth £30,000 more). His parents have now got involved and it has become really nasty. They say that they have done most of the work and that the labour that has been done was cheaper because of people "they" know and I don't deserve any money back. I am in a really low paid job and hardly think its fair that I go in with £15,000 and end up with nothing, meaning I will never be able to set up home in the future and he ends up with everything considering I worked just as hard on the house on the smaller jobs such as painting and decorating. Please help, am I being unreasonable?

No, you're not being unreasonable. In fact, the amount you have suggested is probably a lot less than you are legally entitled to (you may want to change your offer). If you own the home as joint tenants you own half of the home - you are legally entitled to half of the proceeds of any sale. See page 10 of the Housing leaflet (350 KB) for more details of the legal position.

You say that you contributed £15,000 to the purchase of the home "excluding my wages" - does this mean that you have also paid towards the mortgage and some of the improvements? This shouldn't be discounted.

So, in the eyes of the law, you are entitled to half the proceeds of the sale of the house. Unfortunately, property can only be sold if all the owners want to sell it and he wants to stay there, so you need to try to come to some sort of agreement - either to sell up or for him to buy you out at a price you are happy with.

Your ex and his parents seem to think you are in a much weaker position than you are - or they just think you'll give up and walk away. Try speaking to him again, explaining the legal position and try to negotiate from there. Perhaps suggest you get the house valued so that he can pay you the market price for your half? If he realises you're offering him a good deal he may change his tune. If that won't work consider using a mediation service, if he'd be up for it (see our Family Mediation pages). Failing that, you may have to go to court to ask them to order the sale of the house.
Dear Mary,
I have recently split with my partner of five years. The first 3.5 years of our relationship he lived in my rented house bringing nothing but his clothes. I gave that up when he bought a house for us. We are not married and I am not on the mortgage as I was a student at the time.

When I left he kept half of the furniture and I got no money at all. We have always agreed that 30% of the house is mine, but only verbally, and I have contributed half to household bills, mortgage, holidays and food (this I can easily prove). Can I take him to court to try and get some part of the house? If so how do I do that?

You need detailed advice from a family law solicitor (follow the link on the right hand side of the page to find a member of Resolution). I think you potentially do have a claim to a share of the value of the home because of your agreement and your contributions. See page 9 of our Housing leaflet (350 KB) for more details about when people can make a claim.
A solicitor will be able to go over your case in detail and give you a better idea of your options, and chances of success, and, if successful, how much you are likely to be awarded. You can then make a decision about how to proceed. Take as much information and evidence as you can with you.
Dear Mary,
I live in a rented house with my girlfriend of 7 years. The house is in her name but I have paid the rent for 7 years, now she wants me to leave. Do I have to go or can I stay?

Sorry to say this, but it doesn't matter who has been paying the rent. If the tenancy is in her name she has the right to stay and you must go if she asks you to leave. She should give you "reasonable notice" (if you pay your rent once a month, then a month would be reasonable) but you have no right to stay. See our Housing leaflet (350 KB) for more information.
Dear Mary,
My partner and I own our home and the mortgage is in both our names. I have recently ended the relationship and unfortunately the split is not amicable. I am thinking of moving out but still paying half the mortgage until the property is sold? Do I lose any rights by doing this or would it better to stay?

You won't lose any rights by moving out. By jointly owning the home you are entitled to half the money from the sale (unless you own it unequal shares, then you own that share). Any agreement you come to about how to pay the mortgage in the meantime is up to you, but it is vital that the mortgage gets paid.

Problems usually crop up when one person doesn't want to sell. Property can only be sold where both owners agree, or where a court order has been made (which, at the very least, means long delays and legal costs). As a result, it's usually best to keep your ex on side and as enthusiastic about selling as possible. You don't want him/her to refuse to sell, or (as one of our readers did) start making the place look as unattractive as possible for potential buyers.

The only danger in moving out that I can see, is that you wouldn't have any control over how clean and attractive it was when estate agents and viewers came round, and you could end up paying half the mortgage indefinitely. Another option might be to think of ways your ex will want to ensure a quick sale. Perhaps by putting a time limit on it - you'll move out and continue paying half the mortgage until March, say.

I know it's going to be tricky but I think you need to try and do a bit of negotiation with your ex. It might be best to organise it in advance, treat it a bit like a business meeting, and just try to stick to the issues and not to get upset or sidetracked by different problems or accusations. If it's tricky, a family mediator might able to help. See our Family Mediation pages for more details.

The Breaking Up survival guide (1.4 MB) may also help.
Dear Mary,
I bought my home 6.5 years ago. I was a single parent at the time, I have since let my partner move in with me about 4 years ago. The house is in my sole name, I pay all the bills and mortgage. What rights will he have if we split?

He has also accused me now for over 1 year of having an affair, and I am at a stage where I really don't like him anymore. What can I do? I have asked him to leave on numerous occasions to no avail.

If you own the house, he has no right to stay if you ask him to leave. You should give him reasonable notice, but you do not need to give him any more than that. From what you say, this may be easier said then done. Try again, making it clear that you know your rights, and he has no right to stay.

On the face of it, your partner/ex has no rights, but he could ask the court to award him a share of your property under certain circumstances. See p9 of our Housing leaflet (350 KB) for details of these. You might also find our Breaking Up survival guide (1.4 MB) helpful.
Dear Mary,
Two years ago my girlfriend and I decided to buy a home together. I asked her if she minded dealing with the mortgage advisor to which she agreed. I discussed myself taking redundancy from my job to do the home up, she agreed, I gave up my rented flat and took redundancy of £4000. I soon found out how naive I had been. I mentioned that we set up a joint account for mortgage repayments which was agreed but never done, I gave her cash for 3 payments when she asked, and the rest of my redundancy went towards doing the home up which was keeping me busy. I started to ask her if I was on the mortgage to which I was told on several occasions over a period of months that I was. My redundancy by this time had all gone. I told my girlfriend that I wanted to get myself a new job, and leave finishing the house - but she asked me to finish the house first, which I did, as well as landscaping the back garden and building a patio. Eventually I found out after giving up my job and home, and doing the house up that I was not on the mortgage. I decided the lies had finished us. She asked how much I wanted as a settlement I asked what she thought fair after all I'd done. She replied £50,000 as the house had been valued at £200,000 after all the work had been carried out. It was bought for £156,000.

The story goes a couple of weeks later she changed the locks while I was out one day, kept items of mine, and told me when the house is sold I will get my share. But she has since said she is going to let her daughter live in it and not sell. This has been going on for over a year. If it hadn't been for her lies & deceit I wouldn't have been left homeless and jobless. Please could you tell me where I stand with my rights?

You need far more detailed advice than I am able to give you here, so I suggest you see a family law solicitor (follow the link at the right of the page to find a member of Resolution). You don't say whether your name is on the deeds, or whether the original agreement was that the property - not just the mortgage - would be shared. If your name is on the deeds you own half the house, even if your name is not on the mortgage.

If your name isn't on the deeds, I suspect you may have a claim to a share of the value. You may be able to prove you had an 'implied trust' (that you must have had an agreement to share the home, or else why would you have done what you did). Alternatively, you may be able to rely on something called 'proprietary estoppel'. You may even have a claim against the solicitor who helped you buy the house if you weren't given the proper advice. For more information, See the Housing leaflet (350 KB).

A solicitor will be able to go over your case in detail and give you a better idea of your options, and chances of success, and, if successful, how much you are likely to be awarded. You can then make a decision about how to proceed. Take as much information and evidence as you can with you.

Remember, going to court should be treated as a last resort as it’s usually a long, drawn out and expensive business, with no guarantee of success. Once you are sure of your legal position it might be better to try to come to an agreement using a mediation service (see our Family Mediation pages for more information).
Dear Mary,
I moved in with my ex partner and was living in a house he took a mortgage out on. It was initially agreed by the two of us that as I was completing my degree and had no income it would be unfair to put my name on the mortgage, although it was explicitly agreed that once I began employment (only a month later) that the mortgage would be changed into both names. He failed to do this and after over 4 years of constantly arguing about it the relationship broke down and I left. I removed my personal possessions and sought legal advice but I became ill due to the stress and never followed it through. Whilst I know I have no legal claim on the house, over the 4 years I lived there I contributed massively to the refurbishment, paid for all redecoration, paid for plastering works to be carried out, paid for all food bills, cable and telephone bills, and for clothing and food for his children who stayed every weekend. The house price rose considerably and I feel this is partly due to the works I contributed towards. I feel I am entitled to a return on my contributions and am mentally able to cope with this now. I would like some advice on whether I can start proceedings in a civil court and what information I would need to prove my case.

Right, first things first, I think you need a good family law solicitor (follow the link at the bottom of the page to find a member of Resolution) as you need far more detailed advice than I am able to give you here. I suspect you will need to prove to a court that you had an 'implied trust' - that you must have had an agreement to share the home, or else why would you have paid for all the things that you did. You will need to be able to prove that the original agreement was that the property - not just the mortgage - should be shared. If you only ever had a spoken agreement this may be very difficult. You will also have to prove that you paid for all the things you did, and this may prove tricky too. But there is the potential for a claim, if you can get over the problems of evidence.

You don't say how long ago this happened - the longer you leave it, the more difficult it may be to deal with, so get cracking now! Good luck!
Hungry for more questions and answers? See Readers' Questions - More breaking up + housing

Unfortunately, we can no longer answer questions to the problem page. Hopefully, you will find the answer to a similar question on these pages.

February 2010

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