Ex-Husband Racking Up Property Violations in My Name
February 29, 2016 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Divorced for a decade. Ex-husband still lives in our formerly-shared house. Recently discovered that he has been racking up property violations... under my married name. Do I have any recourse?

Out of curiosity, I did a search for my married name (having switched back to my maiden name after my divorce ten years ago) and discovered a slew of property violations for my ex-husband's property - recently. Failure to cut the grass, failure to remove refuse, failure to comply with codes. Multiple summonses were issued over a period of several months - FOR ME, under the married name I used when I last lived there. He apparently fixed all the code issues to the township's satisfaction - which means he saw the letters. With my name on them. And said nothing to me, nor did he correct the township. No fines or penalties were assessed to me, thank god.

1. What the fuck is going on?
2. Is he breaking some kind of law?
3. What, if anything, should I do about this?
posted by sarling to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Contact the issuer of the notices and go from there.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:46 PM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

The issuer of the notices has your name on the property records it sounds like. I would 2nd Lyn Never and contact them to let them know you no longer have any interest in the property. If ex corrected the issues, it does not sound as if this is purposely being vindictive to you, but rather he too did not realize your name was still on some documents.
posted by AugustWest at 8:55 PM on February 29, 2016

Are you certain that you don't own the property, and have written proof like a final divorce decree? Can you look up the property records with the county recorder? That's actually where I would start, if I didn't want to hire a lawyer just yet.
posted by wnissen at 9:46 PM on February 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are you still on title or the tax rolls? Did the township serve any summonses on you or take any enforcement measures against you? If the answer to those questions is no, you may want to ask yourself what you hope to achieve by getting involved.

I'd talk to a local real estate lawyer, especially before taking any action. It sounds like right now none of this is affecting you other than as annoyance at your ex. It's affecting a non-existent person with a name you used to have. Depending on how your township works, you may want to think carefully about associating yourself and your name with a property that apparently has (and may in the future have) multiple violations. You may end up deciding that the best course of action is to roll your eyes and do nothing, or to quietly fix whatever glitch in the system has your former name on it without making yourself the target of future summonses.

(IANYL, TINLA, consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction)
posted by AV at 3:23 AM on March 1, 2016

Did you file a quit claim on the property? If not, you are still on file as an owner even if he got the house in the divorce.
posted by Apoch at 3:33 AM on March 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'd start by checking the assessment records (with whoever does property taxes -- usually the county assessor or auditor, but sometimes it's the town or the state). You can usually check online and see if (a) they still have you listed as an owner of the house, and (b) he's been paying the property taxes.
posted by pie ninja at 4:06 AM on March 1, 2016

IAL. Unfortunately this is all too common in the age of shared databases.

I've been divorced for well over 15 years and my ex-wife kept the house. Thus, she never set foot in, nor owned any fraction of the house I now own and occupy.

Nonetheless, I still get spam solicitations (junk mail) addressed to her at this address or to both of us.

The Township's property records still show you as connected to this property. I'd get a certified copy of the divorce judgment / decree from the court where you got divorced and go see the Recorder's office in the Township and explain the problem.

If there was no deed from you to husband as part of the divorce then that certainly needs to be rectified. If there was not, then you truly are still a co-owner of that property and responsible, legally for it.

If that's the case I'd contact the divorce lawyer you used or another and get this fixed.
posted by BrooksCooper at 7:49 AM on March 1, 2016

Response by poster: To clarify: my name is definitely still on the house. So is his. The issue is that he's allowing violations to accumulate in my name, not his - even though he has been the sole resident for a decade - and hasn't told me. For him to have fixed the issues, it means he definitely seen the summonses with my name on them. And for multiple summonses to have been issued, it means he has done nothing to correct the township.

I'm wondering if this counts as some kind of fraud?
posted by sarling at 8:16 AM on March 1, 2016

what do you mean by "my name is definitely still on the house"? do you mean that you retain an ownership interest in the house? I read your initial question to imply that you do not.
posted by mwhybark at 8:43 AM on March 1, 2016

Best answer: I'm pretty sure that if you are still an owner of the house, you are still ultimately legally responsible for things like keeping the property in good order, not violating codes, etc. (although of course this could vary by different locations). I mean, if you consider a landlord-tenant situation, it is ultimately the landlord's legal responsibility to make sure the grass is mowed, all local codes are violated, etc. I would focus on getting your name off the house.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:57 AM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your name is still on the house, you are still liable for any issues/accidents/nuisances on the property. You can be mad he didn't tell you, but that's about it. This is the risk you take as part of ownership. If there was an actual lien or lawsuit or law enforcement escalation (because some counties will issue warrants for ignored violations), it would affect everyone who actually owns the property, so the name on the mailings is kind of non-material there. The violations are not in your name only, yours is just the line that's getting sucked out of the database to go on the notice.

The city/county/state does not care who the resident is. I know this from renting houses for many years. The tenant can be a party in the enforcement (particularly non-physical issues like noise complaints) but it will actually roll uphill to the owners of the property to remedy.

If you are saying your name is definitely still on the house and it should have been removed by quit deed or whatever, then you might consult a real estate lawyer for next steps.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:11 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you want this to stop happening, you have two options: get involved in ensuring that the house is maintained so that it's not violating the law, or get yourself out of your property interest in the house. As long as you are an owner of the house, you are responsible for its maintenance, and for ensuring taxes are paid, and for keeping it in compliance with all applicable laws. You can also be sued if someone gets injured there or if your property floods or a tree falls and damages someone else's property. If you're an owner, you have to take care of this stuff. Or you have to figure out how to not be an owner anymore.
posted by decathecting at 9:16 AM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Something you may want to check on before you pursue anything - you said the notices are coming to your former name (which might very well be a database issue), but did you change your name on the deed? Are you sure you're not in any tax or other trouble with regards to the house, in violation of the home insurance terms, etc as the owner of the home?

It sounds like you've been very hands-off, expecting him to take care of everything related to your ownership of the house, and evidence suggests he maybe isn't doing that. There are few shocks uglier than a surprise paycheck garnishment for taxes you didn't know you were in arrears for.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:24 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you still partially own the house, I'd expect communications regarding the property to come in your married name, which would be as recorded when you bought it. It sounds like he's keeping things up to code, so where's the fraud? Technically, he's maintaining one of your assets. Get the ownership sorted out as soon as you can, because there are all kinds of ways this could go bad (foreclosure on your credit, liability for an accident, etc.) and, unless you're expecting to get a share of the proceeds when he sells the property, no possible upside for you.
posted by wnissen at 9:45 AM on March 1, 2016

Best answer: Oh, and a lawyer would of course advise you on this, but if you do decide to get rid of the ownership, make sure you also rid yourself of the mortgage. Nothing worse than owing on an asset that you don't even own.
posted by wnissen at 9:47 AM on March 1, 2016

If your name is on the house, you're still responsible, regardless of your name change or whether you're receiving notices. He's being a jerk, but there's no fraud.

Your choices are to get far more involved in the management of the property and possible liabilities (at a minimum, make sure any property-related correspondence is sent to you in addition to him) or eliminate your interest in the house and file a quitclaim.
posted by quince at 12:22 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

If we avoid using the imprecise phrase "my name is on the house," we find that the more direct question is - Does the OP have an ownership interest? If yes, then a violation citation is or could be proper. Fortunately the violations are being remedied and not ignored.

Public record of an ownership interest would normally be found at the deed registrar and at the property tax office. But sometimes that public record does not match true ownership. Mistakes can be made or the officials might be slow in updating their records. If there is a mismatch then it should be corrected.
posted by megatherium at 2:12 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all! Apologies for the lack of clarity; yes, I still have legal ownership. This is a rare instance when everyone who responds is of the same mind: that sure, he might be somewhat of a jerk, but my real problem is with the county office that's pulling my name from the database. And that's certainly more fixable. Thanks again!
posted by sarling at 5:34 PM on March 26, 2016

my real problem is with the county office that's pulling my name from the database.

Well, no. What people are saying is that the county office is likely acting properly, and you're the one who needs to change what you're doing, either by giving up your ownership of the house or by updating the county to send the violation notices to the address where you actually live so that you can fix the issues yourself. The county doesn't care who lives there; they care who owns the property. Because you own the house, you have legal responsibility for it, and so the county is notifying you, at an address you own, that you are in violation of the law, and telling you that you need to stop violating the law. So your real problem is that you own a house but the person who is living in the house is not keeping it up to code, and you have not stepped in to keep it up to code. The way to fix that problem is either to actually stop being an owner of the house by giving up or selling your ownership interest in it, or to take day-to-day responsibility for complying with the law that applies to the property you own.

You can update your address in the database so that they'll send the citations to you at the house where you live instead of to you at the house where he lives, but the citations are being issued to the owner of the house, which is you. There is no reason for the county to stop sending you citations if the property keeps incurring violations. In fact, from their perspective, the system is working perfectly: they find a violation, they notify the owner (you) by mail, the violation gets fixed. The fact that they notify you, but the problems get fixed by him is irrelevant to the county. You are in the county database because it is a database of property owners, and you are a property owner. So if you want the county office to stop pulling your name from the database, you should talk to an attorney about whether you need to stop being a property owner of this property so that there won't be any reason for your name to be in the database. Or you need to start cleaning up after your ex-husband if you're going to continue to have him live in a house that you own.
posted by decathecting at 9:21 PM on March 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and IANArealpropertyL (TINLA), but real property is a situation in which co-owners are often jointly and severally liable, which means that even if both you and he each have an equal ownership interest, you can each be held responsible for each other's failure to maintain the property, and you can be required to pay fines or fees or taxes or whatever on the property in full. Ask your lawyer whether that's true in your situation, because in many situations, you'd be 100% legally and financially responsible if he fails to fix a problem or incurs a fine, even if you are only a co-owner, and even if you haven't lived there in a long time.
posted by decathecting at 9:26 PM on March 26, 2016

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