We often receive emails from readers asking for help in navigating their own real estate crises. In Realty Bites, we try to get them answers.
We've previously fielded a question from a reader trying to prevent his dad from kicking his brother out of a shared co-op, and now we've heard from another reader with the exact opposite issue: how to convince dad to get rid of a half-brother who's overstayed his welcome.
This particular reader inherited a one-bedroom co-op from his grandmother, but being too young and short on credit to get the board's approval to buy it, he co-signed for the apartment with his father. Five years ago, he moved into the place along with his older half-brother, and tells us "the arrangement was that he would live with me until he got on his feet."
Five years later, nothing has changed—except that now our reader wants to live with his significant other without a third wheel. His parents see things differently, and he says, "My father—who doesn't live in the apartment—has decided to withhold the paperwork" to prevent him from taking legal action to give his brother the boot.
"What can I do to try to get my brother out of the apartment?" he writes. "At this rate, I feel like I will need to move before I can be at peace in my own home."
As with so many family matters, well, it's all pretty complicated, and a matter better solved outside of a courtroom. "It’s really more of a family issue than a legal issue," says co-op and condo attorney Dean Roberts of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. "My advice would be to go find a counselor for mediation—legal, family, clergy, something."
Most attorneys would try to mediate the issue, Roberts adds, as a court would be hesitant to rule in your favor on an eviction proceeding, since one half of the apartment's ownership—your dad—is giving your half-brother license to stay put.
However, don't let your father intimidate you by hiding the paperwork; all you'd need to look at in a legal case is your grandmother's will, your stock certificate for the apartment, and the proprietary lease, "all of which you can get copies of from other places," Roberts says.
The major question is how, exactly, grandma left you the apartment. If the will dictated that you own the apartment in full, and your dad just ended up involved for co-signing reasons, it could work to bring a "partition" action in state court, to "essentially flush dad out of his share of ownership," says Roberts. "Whatever your grandmother's original intent was should be able to be fulfilled," he says, but adds, "even in this case the court would probably try to get you two to broker a deal."
If the partition is successful, evicting your half-brother should be a snap, at least from a legal standpoint. "Absent a written lease, he has no right to stay there," says Roberts, though actually evicting a person you share an apartment with is an unpleasant process, to put it mildly.
"While things are legally muddled here, at the end of the equation, there are rational options," says Roberts. "Either the brother gets out of the apartment, or you move out and your brother starts paying you rent." Your best bet is to get everyone involved to a mediation session to try to hammer out some version of this agreement, rather than diving into a a messy court case. No one wants to show up to the next family reunion as "the one who sued his dad."