How to protect myself if things go south after my partner moves in?
October 6, 2022 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I own my house outright. Practically and emotionally, my house is my one source of security in an unstable world (I have a terrible family of origin and am divorced from a borderline abusive ex). The thought of allowing someone to move into my house terrifies me, but I may be in that situation in a few months. How do I best protect my interests?

I own my house outright - my grandmother left me her mortage-free house in her will. I sold my grandmother's house and used the money to buy my own (mortage-free) house. I am estranged from my family and escaped a terrible marriage, so I have a deep wellspring of fear regarding emotional intimacy and long term relationships. My boyfriend's lease is up in 3-4 months and we have discussed the idea of him moving into my house. I truly enjoy his company and he has said all the right things about wanted to respect my independence, paying rent, etc. But a large part of me is terrrified that this is a bad mistake and things will go awfully wrong and it'll get really ugly. I'm in Texas. What do I have to do to get peace of mind surrounding this? Do I need to draft an iron-clad lease agreement and essentially have him be my tenant?
posted by stockpuppet to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't sound like you want him to move in with you, and I don't really see why you need to overcome that feeling. At least not right away, and not because it would be convenient for him.
posted by cakelite at 11:14 AM on October 6, 2022 [64 favorites]

Saying this as your internet friend, this doesn't sound like something you actually want to do.
Given what you shared about how important this house is to you, I'm going to recommend that you enjoy your boyfriend from some other situation than him living with you, until you feel more comfortable about it. Having people move into your house isn't without risk, and even the most iron-clad legal agreement depends on both parties adhering to it.
posted by bleep at 11:14 AM on October 6, 2022 [20 favorites]

Consider the possibility that it may be too soon for you to do this. You don't mention how long you've been with your boyfriend, but the phrase "said all the right things" makes me wonder whether you believe that and are ready to cohabitate.

Given the question and language you use here, I'd suggest that if you go forward you do it on a month-to-month lease agreement that can be cancelled quickly. Consult a laywer, etc. on your rights and his rights in the event that you do break up and he decides he doesn't want to move out on your timeline.

Living together is a lot, if you feel terrified you may not be quite there yet. (I moved in with my now-wife when I was merely nervous, not terrified.)
posted by jzb at 11:16 AM on October 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

Just because you can live together doesn't mean you should. If it terrifies you, I don't think you are ready. That is okay!

You have dealt and are dealing with a lot. Sorting out your feelings with a mental health professional can make you more ready to do this in the future with the right person at the right time.
posted by *s at 11:23 AM on October 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Seconding the idea of hitting the brakes on this to least consider whether you're really ready to do something this intimate. And also:

Do I need to draft an iron-clad lease agreement and essentially have him be my tenant?

You could do that but please be mindful that any arrangement like this will introduce an additional relationship frame, that of landlord-tenant, to your romantic relationship. And this is a very power-differentiated frame, so stacking it on top of whatever dynamics already exist between you and boyfriend romantically is bound to create ripples. It may or may not make your relationship worse, but it will definitely make it more complicated and require additional time and emotional labor on both your parts to figure out. I say this to suggest that grafting on a landlord-tenant relationship may not result in the kind of protection you're looking for, if you're looking to keep both your independence AND your relationship.
posted by obliterati at 11:25 AM on October 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

This house is more than just "home" to you, it is your private sanctuary since you have no "family" to take shelter at, unlike most people.

If it is allowed, add a "tiny home" and have your BF live there, separate from the house. You are not ready to share it with anyone, and while it doesn't make economic sense, it may be a sacrifice you both can agree to for your peace of mind, until you feel safe enough to take the next step.
posted by kschang at 11:27 AM on October 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, if this relationship is new enough that this is the first lease cycle in which the subject has come up, it's not even especially unusual for you to decide it's too soon to live together. You don't have to! Ever!

That said, if you do want to do it, yes you need a lease, whether or not you're charging him rent. This has nothing to do with your relationship and everything to do with protecting both of your asses in case things go south. You are gonna be his landlord one way or the other - get the paperwork in order. (There's no way to just... not be someone's landlord if they're living in the house you own and you're not married or related. At least not in Texas, not last time I looked into tenant law there.)

You can, if you want, charge him a smaller amount of rent than he'd be paying elsewhere, put it in its own savings account, and if you need him to move out, give it back to him to make the move easier. That'd probably be what I'd do, and it'd vastly improve the odds that he *can* move out on short notice if he needs to. Paying someone to move out rather than going through the (long, expensive, paperwork-and-court-appearance-heavy) eviction process is a pretty standard move for landlords.

But yeah, if you don't wanna, you don't haveta, this year or ever. It may eventually limit your relationship options, but that may very well be worth it to you.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:31 AM on October 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

be mindful that any arrangement like this will introduce an additional relationship frame, that of landlord-tenant, to your romantic relationship.

This might be a good way of explaining it to your partner (if that's how you feel) - you don't want this extra landlord/tenant aspect in your relationship.
posted by trig at 11:33 AM on October 6, 2022 [13 favorites]

Best answer: You should really check carefully into landlord-tenant law in your jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions you cannot enter into a binding lease with someome who will share living space with the owner. In other places, having a lease will make it harder for you to get the person out, not easier.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:43 AM on October 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

Talk to a lawyer to determine whether a lease agreement or a cohabitation agreement would work for you. Do not try to draft this by yourself.
posted by saturdaymornings at 11:53 AM on October 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

What do I have to do to get peace of mind surrounding this?

Echoing all the people who say you don't have to do this. In another 15-16 months, if you're still together, you will have a much better view of your boyfriend's character. I'm not saying you shouldn't work on trusting your romantic partner if you think you're cutting yourself off from intimacy, but sharing a house is one of the biggest steps you can take. Try splitting Netflix first.
posted by praemunire at 12:14 PM on October 6, 2022 [9 favorites]

Coming from a similar background (estranged family, abusive marriage), I completely share your fears. Last year I posted a similar ask about moving in with my boyfriend and ended up keeping my place. I am so glad I did that because when I recently decided the relationship had run its course I only had to have a teary conversation and not handle any logistics about moving.

Also: cohabitation is a big step in general and as well as an inflection point in unhealthy relationships, similar to marriage and pregnancy. Your feelings are completely valid. Definitely go speak to a lawyer and see what your options are but the simpler approach may just be "This feels too soon" and asking your partner to renew their lease or find a new place for themselves. You are allowed to say no and don't have to accommodate them if you aren't ready. It may take you a bit longer to feel comfortable enough with a partner to cohabitate and that's fine, better to feel secure and ready than force it and feel on edge in your own home.
posted by JaneTheGood at 12:17 PM on October 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

I'm similar to you--no family, divorced, own my home outright--and I just wouldn't do this. My house is my primary form of security: financial security, housing security, and security against feeling like I'm in a cage match with my partner. If he's here and acting like a dick, I can just ask him to leave. The sense of relief at having him actually leave is incredible. If you were in an abusive marriage, I'm sure you know the feeling of not being able to escape the situation. The main thing I want in my life now is peace, and keeping my home my own is a huge key to that. You don't sound at all like this is something you want to do. So don't.
posted by HotToddy at 12:26 PM on October 6, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You're in the wonderful financial position of not being forced to cohabit with someone, on an arbitrary timescale, just because you can't afford a decent place on your own.

Don't give that up lightly! Cohabit when YOU want to on YOUR timescale, not just because you're seeing someone whose lease happens to be coming up. The advantages of your proposed arrangement are very much weighted in his favour, especially if it turns out that you end up doing more of the housework than him or charging him below market rent.

It's extremely wise to focus first on your own financial oxygen mask, especially if you're female, and especially if you're estranged from sources of support like family. Maybe chat with a (fee only) financial advisor about your own retirement plans, and about how you can protect yourself from being unable to work due to illness (spoiler, relying on a man isn't enough, they can have a tendency to run away when partners or spouses get sick).

You could also consider renting out your own house and moving in somewhere else with your boyfriend (rented or bought) when you're ready.
posted by quacks like a duck at 12:30 PM on October 6, 2022 [10 favorites]

As a traumatized person who will one day have her own home, one way or another (and I will, either through inheritance or divorce or unconventional living arrangements) … I feel that if I were in your shoes, i would maintain my own home. Can your partner rent a space symbolically? I think that would be a red line for me.
posted by pairofshades at 12:33 PM on October 6, 2022

boyfriend (rented or bought)

Uh I meant that the house could be rented or bought. Not the boyfriend.
posted by quacks like a duck at 12:50 PM on October 6, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: This is an instance where you are sliding and not deciding to move in. You are not moving in because you want to move in with him, but you are sliding into decision.
posted by saturdaymornings at 12:54 PM on October 6, 2022 [7 favorites]

Tell him no now so he has time to find another place or renew his lease. He sounds a bit manipulative, it sounds like he's not saying he loves you so much he wants you to live together, he's just saying it would be convenient for him. If he responds negatively to your decision then you'll know it might be time to DTMF!
posted by mareli at 1:03 PM on October 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt."

Your boyfriend has said all the right things. But you haven't. Nowhere in your post do you say anything about you future with this boyfriend. You don't even mention how long you've been seeing him. Of course you are tentative about letting this man move into YOUR house. And if you are, you shouldn't.
posted by Stuka at 1:10 PM on October 6, 2022 [6 favorites]

Ask yourself if you would be considering having him move in with you if his lease was *not* about to come up for renewal. His housing situation is not yours to solve.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:12 PM on October 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

“Saying all the right things” to YOU specifically would actually mean he said “I can tell it’s very important to you to have a safe oasis that’s all your own, so I will keep my own place too and we don’t need to move in together.”

A good boyfriend will understand how important home stability is to you, and not push you to move in.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:27 PM on October 6, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that it's good to know and defend your legal rights. But thinking too hard about those rights isn't always reassuring, because it's easy to end up feeling like your options in a situation are

1) Do nothing
2–99) Uhhhh....?
100) The full worst-case eviction process, including a court case and eventually the cops showing up

which is not especially comforting when you're thinking about someone you love.

So, okay. It's good that the scale goes to 100. You should retain the right to go to 100 if you need to. But you should also think about the situations way lower on the scale.

For instance: Suppose you have a really shitty fight. Nobody was abusive, you're not breaking up, you just need a week to think things over without looking at each other's faces. Is there a place he can go for that week so you can stay put? If you tell him that's what you want — and, remember, this is a scenario where you still love each other — are there decent odds he'll go along with it? Can you talk that out in advance and get his reassurance that he will? If you're really freaked out about it, can you practice it sometime — just be like "I need to see you do it, I know it's weird, but what would you say to picking a night this week to go stay at your mom's"?

Things that might affect your options: Is he the sort of person who leaves (a job, a conversation he's butted into, etc) when he sees he's not wanted? Could he, financially, afford to go live somewhere else? Does he have close friends that keep you from being his sole source of support? If you needed to talk him out of doing something shitty, are there people he listens to who could help? Do you have a shared community that he'd be embarrassed to fuck up in front of?

Obviously none of these guarantee you won't need to go to 100 on him. Like, ok, you can't be sure this one shitty hypothetical fight won't spiral and spiral and that's fine, the scale is always going to go to 100. But if you can answer "yes" to them, then they increase how many low-numbered options you've got.

Or you can think about other scenarios. What if you break up? What if you stay together but agree you can't live together? What if you need to separate for a while? What if you seriously disagree about how to use the space? You probably do have options in all those situations, involving things like "asking him to honor an agreement" or "being kind but stubborn" or, I dunno, "telling his friends he's being a dick." Even in the worst case, here's a relevant fact: most evictions aren't contested and don't involve police. If you tell someone "I own this place and I need you to leave," most of them do it. The scale still goes to 100, but you probably won't need to use it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:07 PM on October 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I had to deal with this scenario when I had actually moved away (sold my 1-bdrm condo in large city, bought house and land in smaller town for return to a lifestyle I'd had before) and thought the relationship would peter out with distance. Yet shortly thereafter he lost his job due to injury, was reno-evicted from the last cheap 2-bedroom suite it was possible to find in large city, and by losing the suite, he also lost his son back to his son's mother in another smaller city.

I hadn't broken off with him, but I wasn't fully satisfied with how little fun I was having (being last on his list of priorities - namely his son and providing for his son) - but then I couldn't bring myself to let him fall even harder into a shelter or the street or something.

I trusted him, however - and felt that there was a deep connection that wasn't fully expressed by either of us - which might be more than you feel for this guy who "said all the right things". We'd known each other for years, and I knew he was a decent person but just going through some difficult times. I too, was going through difficult times (namely grief, loss, and physical pain).

It's been a long, hard, road. After 5 years, he's finally starting to show initiative to do some small things about the house (he'd still been focused on his son and mainly his progression of cars). Now, his son has turned 18 and is moving on without as much contact, and he's still car centric, but has finally stuck with one that he's satisfied with and has ordered a new EV. He has no debt, and has paid rent the entire time, but I've REALLY had to adapt to having someone in my house when I'd been 14 years alone after the death of my hb.

I've felt like more of a mother to this one, and there's no physical intimacy now for 3+ years... which felt like a punch in the gut initially, but I've grown to accept it. He isn't going to leave - when I told him to leave for both our sakes in the first 2 years or so, he just cried and said that he "liked it here"... which was shocking to me when he'd prior to that accused me of being "abusive" because he lived like a slob, and I couldn't stand doing more work looking after him than I'd done for myself in 14 years prior. I was concerned that it had come to the point where I'd painted myself into a corner and he was going to manipulate his way into taking 1/2 of my entire life's worth away.

All that being said, although I've dealt with my own frustrations and resentments, he is finally coming around - and I've learned to exert myself more as an individual in my own house so that I wouldn't get taken advantage of. He's always been adamant that he wouldn't demand to take 1/2 my house if he were to move, but he never did move away - and it seems less and less likely as time goes on.

We do get along, for the most part. I find him funny and affectionate, kind and trustworthy. Maybe it's our ages (I just turned 50, he's 55) - I've heard that people are generally happier over 60 because they've worked through all the kinks... and maybe we were working through the kinks. I've often thought that I'll miss him when he's gone, probably because of the mother/son type feeling - as if there is no question that will happen eventually... but now I'm starting to believe I'm stuck with him (and it's not so bad).

All of my feelings are difficult due to an emotionally neglectful childhood filled with being the scapegoat, feeling helpless to change anything, and from the profound loss I suffered when my very supportive and encouraging late hb died - my present partner always texts me when he gets to work to let me know that he's safely made it there. He's not a bad person, but it hasn't been an easy road. If you aren't ready to do a LOT of introspection and reevaluation consistently after he moves in, then maybe the timing isn't right for you.

You have every right to protect your assets, your sanctuary. Just ask yourself how you would need to know whether someone is safe to share it with? How would that look and feel to you? Does he feel safe to be with, or is that projection on your part - wanting to believe that? I believe that with my partner, a deeper connection and understanding was evident - even though it was not forefront in our relationship... and even then, I questioned what I had allowed into my life almost every day for years. Perhaps I knew that I could trust myself to heal my own wounds, so that I knew I could give him the space to heal his.

I hope my experience helps you come to your own decision. I don't know which way is the best way for you, but I respect your ability to make your own choice.
posted by itsflyable at 2:51 PM on October 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Ideally, you move in together when you decide you both want to live together, regardless of things like financial situations, leases, etc. Life isn't ideal, of course, but you also don't have to make a decision now unless he's giving some ultimatum, and I think you would have mentioned this.

Moving in together - if he gives up his own space - is a big commitment, because it means breaking up is much harder. You are much more entangled. Are you sure you want that? Do you know that you can have a long term, wonderful relationship with someone and never live with them?

When does he have to decide about renewing his lease? One thing you could do is test run living together by having him spend, say, two or three weeks in a row at your house. Does that seem like too much? Then probably you shouldn't move in together! But regardless, you'll have a better sense of how it feels.

I'm also wondering how much time you all spend together now: a few nights a week? More? Do you make most meals together and spend most of your free time together? How much of an escalation is it?

I echo others that it doesn't sound like you want to. You don't have to ride the relationship escalator.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:16 PM on October 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Another possibility: If you do decide to live with him in a few months' time, co-sign a lease agreement at another property entirely. Rent your own house out to others (full-time, or as a holiday rental if that's logistically and legally sound where you are).
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:07 PM on October 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you do, DEFINITELY talk to a good lawyer and make a written agreement - about the landlord tenant perspective and family law. Ignore all the advice here about the law. Both the landlord tenant and family side are super variable by jurisdiction.
posted by lookoutbelow at 4:19 PM on October 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not gong to read any more into your few words here about your relationship, since you didn't ask that question and it seems to have been covered.

I would do two things: first, yes, a proper lease. You can find plenty of those online, but look for the FHA approved one, not just any lease. Go over all the terms. Think through all the contingencies (repairs, renewal, increases, notice to vacate) that it covers. Do not ever let him be late in paying rent. Read up on your local landlord law.

Second, I would ask a lawyer for a formalized agreement for both of you to sign that states you do not consider his rent payments as earning equity in any way. I think the major risk is be that in N years, he would claim that he thought he was earning equity all along, since his money went to the mortgage.
posted by Dashy at 4:54 PM on October 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and he needs his own renter's insurance.
posted by Dashy at 4:58 PM on October 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Want to echo bluedaisy's comment, which I think usefully reframes this into a "do you want to live together" issue rather than a "how to I protect my property" issue. Just to reiterate in different terms: it seems as though perhaps your reticence is more about not being sure you want to full-time cohabitate with this boyfriend at this point. This may be manifesting as concern about your house, but there's likely not a lease in the world that is going to solve this dilemma - you need to decide if you want this person to live with you and in your space full-time, or not. No lease can obviate tenant rights if your boyfriend is living with you more than a month or so, and if you actually believe this person would long-term refuse to move out upon request, I'm not sure why you're with them in the first place (not authoritative, but useful summary of when tenants' rights kick in by state: I DO think being clear about expectations regarding rent payment and such is crucial if you choose to move in together. A lease is one way to achieve that. But either you trust this person or you don't; either this person would do the honorable thing and respect your wishes if you want them to leave your home or they won't. Should it come to blows, any lease agreement is likely not going to be enough for police to immediately drag your partner out of your house, and any eventual court decision is likely not going to find that you have to let him stay in your house indefinitely against your will.
posted by exutima at 7:19 PM on October 6, 2022

It’s ok to say no to things that other people would find more convenient. You aren’t obligated just because someone asks nicely and says the right things. There’s nothing here about what you want, except a lot of hesitation about giving up your sanctuary. You don’t have to.
posted by Bottlecap at 9:57 PM on October 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

A lot of things can happen in three or four months. Relationships can go sour, Covid can get bad again because it will get cold out, or he can find himself a new apartment. If he's paying rent now and can live independently, why should that change? Does he understand your history and the importance of your house being your home and sanctuary? I would make that abundantly clear - and if he doesn't get it, then he's definitely not the right person to move in with, let alone date.
posted by dancinglamb at 5:54 AM on October 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

It feels like a lot is being read into the fact that this is coming up because his lease is expiring -- some people are making assumptions that he sees the OP as a way to get out of a housing bind. But there's nothing in the question that indicates that his lease expiring means he is in a precarious housing situation. His lease expiring presents a timeframe for an opportunity for them to move in together, because he will be free of an ongoing obligation to live somewhere else, so he could move in with them without paying to break a lease. Nothing indicates that if he doesn't move in, that he will even have to move. It seems most likely he would just renew his lease, thus meaning it would be another year before they could conveniently reconsider this issue.

That said, I think given the state of terror the you are in, another year to get to a decision is probably a good idea. Especially if you are actively working on resolving the situation in that time. Maybe some therapy in the meantime to try to get to a better place emotionally about the feeling that this would be an unwelcome invasion. Or maybe time in therapy will make you realize that the problem isn't your feelings about living with people but that this isn't the guy. Or maybe you would realize that you are never going to want to move in with someone, and aren't interested in changing that -- it might change or end this relationship, but there are people out there who have successful lives in which they never share housing with a partner (or even have a partner).
posted by jacquilynne at 6:10 AM on October 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Do not move anyone into your home when you have any but the very slightest misgivings. Do not move anyone into your home when you feel you cannot know their intentions or trust what they say (even if you realize that it's your issues making you mistrustful, rather than them being untrustworthy). Do not move anyone into your home unless you really, super, ultra want to!

You feel terrified and unready and uncomfortable with/afraid of intimacy; right now you need to take care of yourself. Don't torpedo your healing; if your boyfriend is a good partner he won't WANT to terrify you and invade your sanctuary.

It is your home, you own it, you are the boss of it. You do not have to move your boyfriend into it simply because his lease is up. You do not have to live with your boyfriend at all! Or any boyfriend, ever. It is ok to need what you need and to do what is best for you.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:24 AM on October 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

I agree with literally everyone above to wait. If it’s meant to be, an extra year of living apart will only help as you have time to feel more comfortable. If it’s not, then it will be a disaster. I’ve been there and am now extremely cautious. Romance can cautious because it should be comfortable. Moving together should feel exciting and like a treat, not a mistake in the making. I also recommend reading Equal Partners by Kate Mangino for some practical tips for making sure that, if and when you cohabitate, you both can do an equal share of the physical and emotional labor required and desired.
posted by smorgasbord at 1:31 PM on October 7, 2022

The hardest and best lessons I’ve learned in my 39 years of life and love:

1. I should always trust my gut (even though I have OCD & PTSD that can complicate things, I have the ability to be intuitive if I just listen.)

2. I have the right to ask for whatever I want and need in relationship, however silly or inconvenient or random it may feel. I don’t have a right to demand it from others but we both have the right to walk away if the other is unwilling or unable. I’m sure in your difficult marriage (and frankly life in general) you’ve put others’ needs ahead of your own but this is unhappy and/or unsustainable. Finding a middle ground in a relationship based in love and respect can become a joy or at least a welcome choice. Sliding into a decision by default or external pressure rarely feels right and rarely works well.

tl;dr You know the right choice for you and you see you have a whole team of strangers cheering you through the internet! So many of us have been in your shoes and want you to enjoy the freedom and stability that you had to fight so hard for and unfairly so at that!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:40 PM on October 7, 2022

You could talk to a real estate lawyer on what sort of contract would be best. In some places a tenancy of less than month to month may give better protection but that's something to discuss with your lawyer.

Or you could just not have him move in just yet. Just because he said the right things doesn't mean it's the right time for you to have him move in.
posted by yohko at 6:22 PM on October 7, 2022

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