My Friend co-owns a building with an Ex who isn't contributing to expenses. Help.
February 5, 2010 9:06 PM   Subscribe

A friend and her boyfriend bought a mixed use building in California, living in 1/2 and opening a business in the other 1/2. They broke up and friend moved out, ex stayed and doesn't want to sell or contribute. Any options?

An older immigrant friend of mine realized a life's dream when she opened a restaurant in Los Angeles County (I can post the specific city if useful) with her boyfriend several years ago.

It is a beautiful building- they lived in the top half and worked in the bottom half. The relationship ended within months, friend moved out and her ex stayed. She didn't have the money to buy him out, and he didn't want to sell the building (and really, neither did she- her business had just started).

Fast-forward several years. Ex stopped contributing to mortgage, and hasn't paid utilities, rent, taxes, or any money since they broke up years ago. He still lives upstairs. He does his best to avoid friend.

She has struggled to keep it going working alone and it is a really neat place, but with the economic downturn it has become even more difficult to keep things together. Over the years, paying 100% of the mortgage and everything else has eroded her savings have eroded and she may have to close her restaurant within the next year.

This is a really weird situation, but can anything be done about it? It doesn't seem like she can precisely evict him since he is a co-owner, but since he is a co-owner is he liable to pay expenses?

She is an immigrant (in addition to a single Mom, business owner, and supporting her deaf Mother) and very short on money, so before I suggest she hurry and see a lawyer, I wanted to know if there was any hope in this situation.
posted by stewiethegreat to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: To clarify: Friend operates business out of ground floor of co-owned building, and pays mortgage, taxes, all expenses for building. Ex has lived in second floor of co-owned building for years and does not contribute anything.

Sorry if my narrative was confusing...
posted by stewiethegreat at 9:07 PM on February 5, 2010

IANAL, but the only few cases I know of where an unmarried couple went in together on real estate of some variety and every single case involved forcing the sale. Either the party that wants to stay has to pony up for the other half, or both parties have to go and take half of the proceeds.

She should have gotten a lawyer a long time ago.
posted by larkspur at 9:24 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

She needs to talk to a real estate lawyer about a judicial partition or something similar. Only a lawyer licensed in California will be competent to answer this question. I'm not your lawyer and I hate California.
posted by Happydaz at 9:26 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get a lawyer. I'm sure you think you're privy to ALL the details, but something might come up that hasn't come up that changes the way one would look at this case. Get a lawyer.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:43 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Fast-forward several years. Ex stopped contributing to mortgage, and hasn't paid utilities, rent, taxes, or any money since they broke up years ago. He still lives upstairs. He does his best to avoid friend.

How in the world does something like this go on for years?.. She needs to have a sit down with this guy, and I would bring a friend. Maybe he can bring one too. Only the vilest person wouldn't own up to owing anything.
posted by xammerboy at 9:47 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just wanted to remind everyone she is a (somewhat) new immigrant who is anxious about the legal system and nearly down to her last dollar. I know "lawyer" is a good answer, but right now, I need to know if she has any possible recourse.
posted by stewiethegreat at 10:01 PM on February 5, 2010

IANAL but... A judge can force the sale of the property, however real estate law is complicated. There can be differences based on how the property is titled, if there was a partnership agreement in place, etc. So bottom line, she needs a lawyer. Maybe check legal aid, or other low cost legal resources. Since this is a civil instead of criminal case, she will need to procure a lawyer on her own if she wants to get this resolved.
posted by MsKim at 10:09 PM on February 5, 2010

Her recourse is "get a lawyer". That is her only recourse.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:10 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe you can call immigrant support services, both official and informal, to see if you can find a real estate lawyer willing to talk with her.
posted by barnone at 10:24 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Is there a local advocacy group for immigrants from her country of origin (eg. the Los Angeles County Chinese American Citizens Alliance, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, the Ethiopian American Council)? If so, maybe she'd feel comfortable turning to them for advice.
posted by amyms at 11:27 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

stewiethegreat: “I know "lawyer" is a good answer, but right now, I need to know if she has any possible recourse.”

I know it sounds scary and huge, but "get a lawyer" doesn't have to involve hiring a guy and putting him on retainer. In this case, it just means something simple - and free.

Look in the phone book for a lawyer, and try to find one who specializes in property law. Give her or him a call, and see if you can set up a brief consultation free of charge - many, many lawyers do this, and regard it as a normal part of their business. They're not giving anything away or doing charity or something - it makes sense to talk to a person for a little big before agreeing to work with them, and it gives them a chance to size up the relationship too.

After half an hour or so of talking with a lawyer, your friend will have a much better idea of the options. Maybe the lawyer will spend the whole time selling himself, but more likely he'll be able to answer some specific questions and outline generally what the best direction for her will be legally. Of course he'll probably offer his services in that direction, but that won't mean she has to hire him to do it; heck, he might even just say: 'look, you just need to x, y, and z,' and she'll have a solution right there.

Seriously, "hire a lawyer" makes it sound like you're paying through the nose for legal counsel, but talking to a lawyer usually doesn't cost anything, and it can really be worth it. Just on a very basic level, it can let her know the difference between a "oh, just talk it out" sort of situation and a "PUT ON A TIE, WE'RE GOING TO COURT RIGHT NOW" situation. That's a difference I think us laypeople really can't speak to, unfortunately - but you can get that question answered for free, so why not?
posted by koeselitz at 12:16 AM on February 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sorry; a lawyer can just as easily be a she as a he. Please ignore the sexism.
posted by koeselitz at 12:17 AM on February 6, 2010

Seconding barnone and amyms.

I'm a law student in Queens, NY. As part of my coursework, I work as a intern at a local Catholic Migration Office that provides free legal services to low-income immigrants, regardless of their religious or immigration status. We focus on housing, immigration and labor issues. If we don't handle their particular issue, we refer them to the appopriate program or agency. Surely there are similar offices in California that could 1. help your friend with her property-related issue or 2. refer her to a law office, program or agency that could help her.

A quick Google search turned up the following:

A list of attorneys in CA who provide free immigration services

Stanford's law school's Immigrants' Rights Clinic

A list of CA county Legal Aid Societies

While the first two resources seem focused on immigration, they may be able to steer her toward appropriate free or low-cost legal services.

It might take a bit of legwork, but I would start making phone calls and asking for referrals.
posted by Majorita at 1:18 PM on February 6, 2010

Talking to a lawyer is probably the best answer but until then, can she track down the ex to explain that she can't pay the mortgage and that unless she can rent out the upstairs (with him moving somewhere else) or sell, the place is going to get foreclosed. I know it might not work but she's really not out anything by giving it a try. He might not want to sell or contribute to the upkeep but it's not really a choice right now. If he knows the choice is do something or have no place to live, he might be more willing to work out a solution.
posted by stray thoughts at 2:30 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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