Determining Home Ownership
Ask the Real Estate Lawyer: Real Estate Law Q&A
By Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin
Summary: A reader has paid off the loan on
a home they intitally bought with another person, but has been the primary owner
for fifteen years. The reader is wondering how to get the original partner off
of the deed. Sam and Ilyce suggest going to court to file a suit for partition.
Q: I purchased a home with another person about fifteen years ago. That person
left a couple of years later leaving me with all of the expenses to the home.
He has never come back and has never had anything to do with the home or me
since. I have now paid the loan of the house off.
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What rights are there to get this person off the deed to this property? Someone
told me I could use the statute of limitations after 15 years, is that true?
A: I hope you've kept good records. If you were not married to your co-owner
and you owned the home jointly with him, or you both owned it equally (as tenants
in common each with fifty percent ownership), you will have to go to court and
file what is called a suit for partition.
Basically, you will plead with the court that all of the expenses in the home
since your co-owner left you that should have been paid by him are enough or
more than the value of your co-owner's share of the home.
To determine what the value of the home is, you will have to obtain an appraisal
that is acceptable to the court. If what you have put into the home on behalf
of your co-owner is more than the value of his share of the home, you will have
a claim against the co-owner's interest in the home that exceeds his value in
The court probably won't convey title to you, but, rather, will require that
the co-owner's interest in the home be sold at either an auction or by other
means. Upon the sale, any proceeds from the sale could be used to satisfy what
he owed you. More importantly, you want the court to allow you to bid what your
co-owner owed you towards the value of the home. If you bid what he owes you,
you should then get the entire title to the home in your name.
Since each of you should have been paying one half of all of the expenses for
the real estate taxes and capital improvements to the home, good record keeping
is a must. You will also have to have a paper trail to prove all of your payments.
A court may not allow you to claim the basic expenses of the home, such as the
utility expenses and day-to-day costs, but major repairs, real estate taxes,
the insurance for the home and the mortgage payments should be considered.
Was this property an income-producing property at one point? If the home was
rented and you received the rental income, the money you received would offset
some of the expenses you could otherwise claim he should have paid.
While it won't be easy to figure out your share and what would have been your
co-owner's share of the expense, you must try to do it. Your co-owner should
have been paying for half of these many expenses since he left and didn't. Your
state may have other laws that would allow you to claim the home outright.
Unfortunately, if the value of the home has increased significantly, the expenses
paid may not be enough to eliminate your co-owner's interest. While you should
talk to a real estate attorney, I would suggest that you talk to one that has
had experience in at least a couple of partition suits in the last couple of
years. These types of suits are not too common and you need to have an attorney
that has had experience with them.
One final thought: if your co-owner has died, whatever interest he had in the
home would transfer to those people designated in his will or as required under
state law. You may want to determine if he is still alive or, if he has passed
on, figure out who inherited his share of the home.
You may be able to offer them a small amount of money to have them deed to
you his interest in the home. Remember that a partition suit will cost a sizeable
amount of money, and if you can buy out your partner's interest quickly, that
may be the best option.
Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Ilyce
R. Glink’s latest book is 50 Simple Steps You Can Take To Sell Your
Home Faster and For More Money In Any Market. If you have questions for
them, write: Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, IL 60022
or contact them through Ilyce’s website www.thinkglink.com