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Can my boyfriend claim ownership of my condo if we break up?

It may be in your interest to have a rental agreement in place. 

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Question:

I just bought my own condo and my boyfriend lives with me and pays me rent. I'm not sure where our relationship is headed. If we split up, is there any way he can claim some kind of ownership of my condo? How can I avoid such a situation?

Answer:

It's possible he could make such a claim if he contributes at all to the costs of maintaining the condo, our experts say, so you may want to take steps to protect your ownership. 

That said, you should already be shielded to some extent from this kind of scenario, as most condo boards have the right of first refusal written into their bylaws, which gives them a say in the transfer of ownership of an apartment. Co-op boards have even more control, and a more rigorous approval process; any spouse or romantic partner whose name isn't on a lease would have to be officially approved by the board to become a co-owner.

"If you are the only name on the deed, you are the owner," says Deanna Kory, a broker with Corcoran. "The board won’t recognize another owner unless they have been put on the deed, submitted all the documentation necessary, and went through the waiver process, so technically there is no danger." 

However, without any kind of agreement in place between you and your boyfriend, you do run the risk of him demanding money back—possibly through a lawsuit—should you split up. If he is paying you rent that is going toward your mortgage, for instance, he could make the argument that he is therefore entitled to some ownership of the condo. 

"If the boyfriend has contributed to the cost of the purchase or upkeep of the condominium, he could bring an action seeking to recoup the value that he has added," says Jeffrey Reich, a partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. "The boyfriend could seek a constructive trust of the apartment and potentially compel a sale." 

It may not be very romantic, but the best way to avoid a messy legal battle following a break up is to have a written agreement in place. 

"It would make sense for the couple to have an apartment ownership agreement prepared, which should specifically address the rights, obligations—financial and otherwise—and interests of each of the parties," Reich says. 

You can find templates for such agreements online, but it's best to hire a real estate attorney to make sure you are fully protected from any claims your boyfriend could make against you. 


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