What are our rights if we were renting to buy from my mother but after making 3 years of payments, she sold the house out from under us?

She set a price and was holding the deed. She wrote on every receipt “rent to buy”. Before moving in we gave her over $11,000 to pay her overdue taxes on the house; we lived there for 3 years and paid over $26,000 total. Then she informed us that she was selling. We moved and the house sold. She refuses to repay us any of the money. Do we have a legal right to all or part of the money back? No written contract – only the receipts. I have all of them and every one has “rent to buy” written on it.

Asked on July 23, 2015 under Real Estate Law, Virginia


Gregory Abbott / Consumer Law Northwest

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Most, if not all, States require real estate sales agreements to be in writing in order to be enforceable.  Whether such a notation on "rent receipt" is sufficient will take a local attorney's careful review of all the facts, details, etc.  Was there an agreed upon price?  Timeframe?  Why no sales contract?  How does the amount paid compare to rents for similar properties in the area (if it is obviously more than just rent, that would help support your claims; if it is about the same as rent alone would have been, that may hurt you)?  What will Mom admit to?  If you paid over $26,000 it should be worth paying a few more dollars to a local attorney to determine your rights - and it should have been worth simply paying one up front to draft a proper sales agreement!  Good luck.

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