Can a co-owner charge me rent to live on the property we both own?

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Can a co-owner charge me rent to live on the property we both own?

My husband’s grandmother gave land to my sister, mother and I. We all equally own the property; this property has a house. In my grandmother’s Will, she stated that she wanted whoever lived on the property to pay the others rent. Well my husband and I moved into the house and have been here almost 10 years now. My husband is 1 of the 3 owners and he asked his mother and sister to allow him to move in and they wanted rent but we had no jobs at that time and had no where else to go. He told them he would not be able to pay right until he got a job, so they said okay, you can move in just pay the land taxes. Well, he was injured and has become totally disabled and still is. So they said nothing about rent or wanting it at all. They just asked if we could pay monthly payments to USDA for a loan his grandmother put on the land. We said we would and we have. Now after 10 years his sister wants to force me, his caregiver to pay rent. I have to stay with him cause we can’t afford a sitter right now. So I can’t work. We can’t afford to rent, we barely keep our lights on. But we have put in work on the house and made and replaced a lot of times here. Even cleared the land and made other minor improvements. His sister wants rent because we will not take care of my husband’s mother. Recently, I was given another task to tend to my elderly mom. So I have no time to take on yet another handicap person. Do I have to pay rent even though my husband is an equal owner? I want to work but I have both my mom and my husband to care for, my husband’s sister lives an hour away and that is her excuse for wanting to care for her own mother. Again, please help we don’t know what to do.

Asked on November 7, 2018 under Real Estate Law, Tennessee

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

If you are all equal owners and the property was simply left to the three of you, then no, your co-owners cannot charge you rent, regardless of what your grandmother's preferences were. There are ways your grandmother could have set it up so whomever lived there paid rent (e.g. put it into a trust, with instructions to the trustee to charge rent to the resident(s)), but if the property was just left to all of you, then as fully equal co-owners, no one owes the other(s) rent, and they can't force you to pay. If left to all of you  as outright owners, your grandmother's wishes are not binding. Quite simply, equal owners all have the right to use the property without paying the other owners.
However, before refusing to pay, consider the following: if they don't want you to be living rent free there, the other owners could bring a legal action to force the sale of the home (called an action "for partition") no matter your wishes. The home would be sold pursuant to a court order, then the proceeds (after paying the legal costs, costs of sale, and any mortgages, HELOCs, liens, etc.) would be distributed among the owners. So if you value living there more than you'd value your share of the equity, it behooves you to work something out with the co-owners.


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