Unreal Estate (Post-Breakup House Question)
August 30, 2018 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Purchased a house with then-boyfriend in Pennsylvania in 2015. We were co-signers. I supplied the down payment ($45K). We had no written agreement regarding a possible breakup. We broke up in 2016. I moved out. He said he'd repay the $45K. He hasn't. He's still living there. My name's still on both mortgage/deed. Please don't suggest "lawyer up". I KNOW I should. I have no money. I spent it all on that dumb house. Until I can magically summon lawyer fees, what options might I have? Details: we were never married. House is is Bucks County. Mortgage is with Wells Fargo.
posted by julthumbscrew to Law & Government (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
.....I am not a lawyer, I am not your lawyer. This advice is based on an uneducated understanding of how residency and tenancy laws works.

But: in simple terms, you own the property, and he is living in it. Would this not effectively make you....his landlord? Maybe send him a lease to sign and so you can start charging him monthly rent if he doesn't move out?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:10 AM on August 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Is his name on the mortgage and deed too?
posted by Melismata at 11:14 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Please don't suggest "lawyer up". I KNOW I should. I have no money.

This is "ask a relative for a big, huge, monumental favor" time. Take a couple thousand out of the 401k somehow. Sell a bunch of crap. Donate gallons of blood. Get a short part time gig. Downsize your car.

This is so far into get a lawyer territory that the light from "you can do this yourself" will take a million years to reach you. He's got 45+ thousand of your dollars. Spend 2-3 thousand to go get it back.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:14 AM on August 30, 2018 [68 favorites]

I am not a lawyer.

Don't you need to refinance in order to get your name off the mortgage? Part of the reason that my ex and I sold our house instead of one of us holding onto it was because a refinance would have been required for one of us to take sole ownership.

Since he's going to need to talk to lawyers in order to do the refi, maybe the negotiation of the return of your 45k could happen as part of that?

Or is he just happy merrily sailing along with you as co-owner?
posted by missrachael at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2018

I mean... you said it; you need a lawyer.
Until you have the funds, write everything down. Create as detailed a timeline as you can and include all relevent documents as well as pictures of text messages discussing the repayment of the down payment if you have them.
It sounds like from your question that you are both on the mortgage/deed. If that’s the case, you still are part owner of the house. You could threaten your ex that you’ll sublease the house unless he agrees to pay you back the down payment, but that’s a risk you’d have to take on your own.
If you are the only name on the deed, can you just put the house on the market?
Neither of these possibilities are that sound, so I’d find a way to get the money for a lawyer if I were you. Best of luck!
posted by Champagne Supernova at 11:19 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Have you talked to him beyond him saying he'll pay you back? Have you said, "Obviously, you don't have the money to pay me back, so we need to sell the house."

Basically, if he won't go along with that, you need a lawyer whether you can afford one or not, but we don't know if you've tried further discussion with him.
posted by FencingGal at 11:21 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Were you co-signers on both the deed (title), and the mortgage? If so, then you can't unilaterally make him a renter or evict him.

How is the mortgage getting paid?

What ultimately needs to happen is, he needs to refinance to a mortgage in his own name only. Getting your name off the mortgage is probably even more important than your $45k. Do you think he'd be able to do that, in terms of credit and income?

If the house has appreciated enough where he could get a mortgage on his own for more than your original mortgage (a cash-out refinance), he could return your down payment out of the extra.

Anything you do now like stopping payments or strategically declaring bankruptcy puts your $45k at risk before anything else, unfortunately.
posted by Dashy at 11:21 AM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Gather together all of your documents, including whatever paper trail you can get to show that you provided the $45k for the deposit. You will still need a lawyer, but the more legwork you can do yourself the cheaper it will be.
posted by plonkee at 11:22 AM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

A little aside from your question, but do you have insurance on the house? (Important in any case, but even more so if there's any chance of him being vindictive in any way.)
posted by trig at 11:30 AM on August 30, 2018

A lawyer may not be as expensive as you think. You can also access low-cost legal clinic at law schools. In addition to your $45 you may be entitled to an shift payout if the house has risen in value.
posted by saucysault at 11:34 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes! Make sure you can show your 45 grand- my friend is trying to prove something similar now and has had difficulty getting records from not that long ago (10 years?)
posted by catspajammies at 12:03 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

One other thing that isn't clear is whether the house is now worth more or less than it was worth when you bought it. If its more then you have no need to just take the 45k you put in, you are entitled to at least some of any gain the house has made.

Forget letting him stay if he can't pay what you are owed, especially if he is not acting in good faith to pay you back.
posted by biffa at 12:11 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

If your end-goal is to sell the house and get your $45,000 back from the sale price, you may be able to talk to a real estate lawyer who would be willing to receive his fees at closing, paid with the money made on the sale. You might have to pay a small initial retainer, maybe a couple hundred bucks, to get them to commit but getting paid at closing is pretty much guaranteed so lawyers should be comfortable with that.

However, if the argument comes down to "prove that you put $45,000 into the house and expected to be paid back", then a real estate lawyer might be out of his element, though.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:12 PM on August 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Big open questions.

Is he on the deed? Your options hinge significantly on this answer.

What are you trying to do here? Move back in? Rent it? Sell?
posted by bitdamaged at 12:27 PM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

In a similar situation (2 owners) in a different jurisdiction many years ago, one owner sued the other to sell the house and split the proceeds.

In short, he owes you your initial down payment, rent (or at least rent going forward) PLUS any appreciation in the value of the home split down the middle.

The way this works is that your lawyer sues above and beyond for every damn cent he owes you, then you settle on a lesser amount that (hopefully) pays you back with interest and profit + gets you off of the mortgage and deed. If he can’t pay, the house gets sold and you get your share once the sale is complete. It’s a house. There’s equity in the house. Shop around for a good lawyer who will take the majority of their payment at a reasonable rate from your share of the proceeds on the house. All it takes is a retainer to get the job started. Don’t wait.
posted by jbenben at 12:54 PM on August 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

You should be able to find a lawyer who will accept payment when the house is sold and you get cash.

You paid 45,000. Somebody has paid the mortgage, generating some equity, let's say ~ 10,000. What paid what into the mortgage? Let's say you paid 5K, he paid 5K. You have 50K / 90.9% of value, he has 5k / 9.1%. House appraises at 75K above purchase price, and equity in the house is now 130K. He should pay you the 45,000 down payment, plus 5,000 in equity in payments, plus at least 1/2 of any increased value in the house. This is very fair. Don't be too nice, money is wicked useful. You've been taking care of him, time to stop.
posted by theora55 at 1:34 PM on August 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

You might find the information in this NOLO article helpful--it lays out all your likely options in plain language: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/living-together-book/chapter10-7.html
There are more articles on what to do when unmarried people break up at the bottom of this page.

In addition, if you do look for a lawyer, here are some resources to help you with that.
Centre County Women's Resource Center
MidPenn Legal Services - Free Legal Aid
Bucks County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, Doylestown: (215) 348-9413, (888) 991-9922
Pennsylvania Bar Lawyer Referral Service (Costs $30) http://www.pabar.org/site/For-the-Public/Find-a-Lawyer
posted by purple_bird at 1:39 PM on August 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer: we're both on the deed. I don't want to move back in or force a sale or be vindictive in any way. I'd be happy to just get back what I put in with a minimum of fuss.
posted by julthumbscrew at 2:41 PM on August 30, 2018

Forcing a sale is probably the only way to get that money back, unfortunately. Unless you think he has 45k just hanging out in his bank account AND that you can somehow convince him to part with them.

You can bring up selling the house without involving a lawyer but if he doesn’t immediately acquiesce then I’m afraid you’re going to HAVE to lawyer up and go after the asset.
posted by lydhre at 3:06 PM on August 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

He could also refinance, potentially, but all of this requires effort and commitment on his part.
posted by lydhre at 3:07 PM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd be happy to just get back what I put in with a minimum of fuss.

I don't want to sound mean here, but if this were possible, it would already have happened. He (effectively) owes you money. He knows he owes you money. He hasn't even begun trying to pay it off (and you haven't mentioned any life emergency that might justify or at least explain a delay).

No one likes to do it, but at a certain point you often have to accept that a dude you were sleeping with has a weak character and is, and probably was, exploiting you. Stop pretending to yourself he's going to do the right thing without being forced; he's not, or he already would have. Get the lawyer. This is too complicated for you to handle on your own, and also he clearly doesn't take you seriously--and won't until he's compelled to. There could be quite a bit of money at stake for you.
posted by praemunire at 3:29 PM on August 30, 2018 [33 favorites]

If you are truly unable to pay a lawyer, you may be able to find free representation through a clinic or a pro bono program of one kind of another. Your profile suggests you are in/near a big city, which is helpful for this. Google things like "Legal Assistance Foundation" or "law school legal clinic" in your area and make some phone calls. There are some organizations that are dedicated to helping women who have been taken advantage of/abused by men - googling "Women's Law Clinic" turns up an interesting organization in your area - though these may be geared more toward abuse-type situations.
posted by Mid at 5:57 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't want to move back in or force a sale or be vindictive in any way. I'd be happy to just get back what I put in with a minimum of fuss.

Well, selling the house is usually how people would come up with the $45,000 for most people.

It's not "vindictive" -- it's a common business matter to deal with when a relationship ends.

If the house has gone down in value, there might not be $45,000 to get out of it. But my thought on this is that you aren't owed $45k, you are owed your share of what you put into the house -- which could be more than $45k if there has been appreciation. Unless you have such a great relationship with him that you can sit down and discuss you put in $x, he put in $y, and it's time to sell the house and each take your respective share, you need a lawyer.

If the house has declined in value such that there isn't $45k in equity, you REALLY need a lawyer.

This isn't vindictive, any more than it would be vindictive to leave a job and expect to get a last paycheck from them.
posted by yohko at 6:30 PM on August 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Further info: the house was purchased as a foreclosure, fixed up by us, and is now worth ~$125K more than we paid for it.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:05 PM on August 30, 2018

There's a lot of details here and so many unanswered questions. IANAL, but if I were in your shoes, I'd start working on some documentation of all the money associated with the house. Who paid what? What can be documented and proven? Don't forget insurance, repair costs, mortgage payments, etc. You've got a lot of paperwork you need to go through.

Determine what is owed to you. Then look for an arbiter or mediator. Be sure they can issue judgements in your jurisdiction. Ask your boyfriend to agree to mediation. When you get a judgement, hopefully you can use that and put a lien on the house until he pays you in full.
posted by hydra77 at 11:19 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes to hydra77's suggestions to document.

Do talk to real estate lawyers in the state the house is in. Possibly by phone if you aren't nearby. The first visit is usually free because you are both seeing if you want to to work together. You can probably find a lawyer who will work on a contingency basis so you won't need any money upfront. Perhaps you'll want to go with an arbiter or mediator, but check out the options.
posted by yohko at 11:25 PM on August 30, 2018

Further info: the house was purchased as a foreclosure, fixed up by us, and is now worth ~$125K more than we paid for it.

Assuming it will appraise at that new value, and assuming some other equity, he can do a cashout refinance to get your money, and keep the house. It's a win/win.

It's in theory quite simple, however the details are extraordinarily important, and so you should get a lawyer even in the case where he agrees and can get the mortgage. Your asking this question here means you do not have the expertise required to do this yourself.

If he's willing to negotiate and such, then the lawyer won't cost much. If he puts up a fight, then the lawyer will cost more, but be worth every stinkin' penny.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:41 AM on August 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

Further info: the house was purchased as a foreclosure, fixed up by us, and is now worth ~$125K more than we paid for it.

It sounds like there are three lots of money to consider here.

The first is the 45k you put down as the deposit. You recognise this is yours and want it back. You should, because its yours.

The second is that will have been paying towards the mortgage each month. Some of this goes to interest, but some of this goes to paying down the initial amount of money you borrowed with the mortgage. This isn't rent, its YOU making your contribution to paying off the house. This is your money too. You can't get the interest back because that's the bank's money but you are entirely entitled to getting the share of the house you paid for. This is just the same as getting your 45k back.

The third blob of money is what arose from your investment in buying the house. Not everyone likes to think of houses in this way but YOU (and he if he was paying his share of the monthly payment) took a risk when you spent your money on the house and money and time on doing up the place. You had a substantial cost (the interest that went to the bank, see above), forewent interest and whatever pleasure you could get from spending your 45k elsewhere. The upshot of that risk was that it paid off and the house is worth a fair bit more. The extra is your return. That money is currently a house and not cash in your account, but it is just as much an asset and again, you are entitled to a share in that asset. That share of the house is yours too. Don't let it go. Its not being vindictive to be looking to realise any of these assets.
posted by biffa at 7:18 AM on August 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

Lawyers are as expensive as a lot of people want to make them out to be. Few people ever say, "I can't afford an electrician or computer repair or a plumber." These are professionals, doing professional work, and charging accordingly. Whenever anyone says they can't afford a lawyer, I usually think, "You can't afford to not have a lawyer." Every lawyer I've ever worked with has the initial consultation for free, and you can get a quote on estimated hours, and an hourly rate.

Last time I used a lawyer, I had to put $1,000 into an escrow account. I got like $500 back when the matter was resolved. I was charged $125 an hour.

I think you'd want to act on this sooner than later. You may have obligations you aren't even thinking about. If you are on the loan, and haven't been paying your share, that will probably come out of anything you are asking back, etc. I would also worry about effectively giving up any claim you have to the property by not living there, by not paying on the note, etc. There are a lot of laws that govern these sort of things. I don't see how a person could navigate this situation without one.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:14 AM on August 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Upon your update... Mentally gift your ex the money and the house. Accept the legal responsibility of ignoring the mortgage, deed, insurance, and property taxes. Just... erase it from your mind. It’s ok. People do that and live on happily. It’s your choice.

When you change your mind, the only way to accomplish all of this is with a lawyer, with zero personal interaction with your ex required, and near zero out of pocket expense to you.
posted by jbenben at 8:29 AM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

This seems like a job for an attorney happy to work on contingency. The lawyer gets paid when you get paid.
posted by Doc_Sock at 9:40 AM on August 31, 2018

Further info: the house was purchased as a foreclosure, fixed up by us, and is now worth ~$125K more than we paid for it.

Holy cow. Are you expecting a major inheritance, such that tying up $45,000 meant so little to you that you don't even think you deserve the major share of the significant appreciation on the place? I mean, if that's the case, then fine, go about your merry way. (And if there is some kind of abuse issue here that you haven't flagged, of course you have to prioritize your safety.)

Otherwise, you need to recognize that even if you get the $45K back, you are proposing to hand over (I'm going to be generous to him here) probably in the neighborhood of $80K to someone you know is a bum just because he can't be bothered to stop lying around in his bumitude and do what he promised. You can't afford a lawyer, but you can afford to throw away that much money? Whatever weird nonsense your family may have taught you about women and money and aggression, now is the time to get over it. No one is going to look after you financially except you, and people, especially men, are never going to stop trying to take advantage. This is your money. Getting what you have earned fair and square is not vindictive, it is what grown people do. Say $125K (all told) of the money would presumably buy you your own house. Why would you donate it to this bum? Do you think looking back you're not going to have turned out to need that money? Hint: if you're currently in a situation where you can't easily put your hands on a few thousand bucks for a lawyer, the answer is: no.
posted by praemunire at 12:21 PM on August 31, 2018 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Further update: I'm going to wait until I get my year-end bonus or tax refund, then hire a lawyer. I will begin calling lawyers now so I have one lined up. I will attempt to recoup some of the appreciation value. This is clearly out of my league. After the breakup, I moved twice, lost my job, and had a mastectomy. I have not had the resources to aggressively pursue this, and I have a pathological fear of seeming entitled. But it's clear I need to shed that.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:53 PM on August 31, 2018 [13 favorites]

You are not “acting entitled”, you actually ARE ENTITLED. If you had a friend who put $45k into a house, and then her ex failed to repay it despite the house having massively appreciated so that it would be easy to refinance, AND your friend had lost her job, AND had a mastectomy, and had a kid to take care of, how would you look at it? Would it be rude for her to need that money back? It’s not like it’s some favor he has to do for you, it’s his obligation.

If I it were me and I were on decent terms with the guy I’d probably try talking about it first i.e. “Hey ex, I really need my share of the house money back (the down payment plus my share of the appreciation), I have some costs that make it necessary to get my investment back by Christmas, so I need you to initiate a refinance process now. Can you please get to a mortgage broker in the next two weeks to get this started, and cc me when you’ve begun?” Not trying to be mean, but just clearly stating timelines and expectations.

Then if he didn’t get right to it and show me that he was in the refi process within two weeks, or if he were in any way difficult or obstreperous, I’d call the Pennsylvania state bar. For $30 they can get you a half hour consultation, so you don’t have to wait for the end of the year. And unless you have no paper trail to prove your investment, I suspect the lawyer will work on contingency, because the money is clearly yours, and he is clearly able to repay it. The bar’s find a lawyer consultation number is 717-238-6807.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:41 AM on September 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

p.s. I also understand about not having the psychological resources to pursue what may feel like a very uncomfortable process, and apologize if I was making it sound like you NEED to do this before Christmas. I had a landlord keep $2000 that he owed me, and pursuing that felt super awkward, and I delayed it plenty, so, yeah. It’s just that it sounds like your ex is using your reluctance as a way to step all over you. So if I could hit the perfect balance between validation (you’ve really been through a lot! Good job at dealing with things as they come! Deal with this when you feel ready!) and encouragement (you deserve to get repaid! A lawyer may well be eager to work for free! You don’t necessarily have to wait if you don’t want!) — let’s pretend I hit the perfect balance there, whatever it may be

I wish you an easy and pleasant time getting this pile of money back.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:52 AM on September 1, 2018

I encourage you to be fair to *yourself*. In general, no one else will be. You have substantial equity that could help you pay down debt, fund a retirement account, make life a bit more manageable. If you get a fair share, he will still have profited from your investment. Make sure the lawyer you hire will stick up for you, probably a divorce lawyer with a great track record with women. You need an advocate. You deserve a fair deal. No matter how far you bend over backwards to be fair, some people will always push you farther.
posted by theora55 at 2:12 PM on September 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Everyone else is strongly suggesting the consultation with a lawyer ASAP and so do I, but in case you do not, go that route that Champagne Supernova and plonkee said upthread and get as much documentation together as you possibly can.

Screenshots of text messages between you guys, emails, pdfs of bank account statements, copies of the house sale documents, anything. A) it will save you time & money in the future and B) as time passes, things get deleted and aren't able to be accessed.
posted by amicamentis at 1:04 PM on September 4, 2018

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