Do I have tenancy rights? How do I protect them?

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Do I have tenancy rights? How do I protect them?

I live in Berkeley California. My 88 year old mother suffered a stroke two weeks ago and passed away last Saturday afternoon not far from here in Silicon Valley. Over the past ten years I have looked after her and her house and property, while my four siblings have done little to nothing. Before her stroke, the plan was to go down and finish off a few ongoing projects that should be completed before fall turns to winter. The Sunday after her stroke, but before she died, two Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies showed up unannounced, escorting my younger sister and older brother. They were looking for documents such as my mother’s birth certificate and the deed to the house. I was asked to leave the house as they spent the next few hours doing so.

One of the sheriff’s deputies explained to me that, as I have so frequently been at my mother’s house for the past ten years nine months alone in 2017, that I have certain tenancy rights and cannot be tossed out of here tomorrow.

There is a will from 1985 which names my older brother as executor. He and I have a somewhat antagonistic relationship I am surprised my mother did not make allowances for this and name someone unbiased and impartial. He has cancelled all ongoing work and is now telling me when I can and cannot be on the property. He has a law degree, but does not practice. I have a fair amount of tools and materials as well as personal effects at the house. It will take some time to move them.

I’ve looked around the internet and at the relevant Nolo books but cannot find information about my situation.

What rights do I in fact have? What power does my brother have? The house is to be sold and I know my mother would not want it on the market in its current sorry state, when for not a lot of time and money, things could be completed which will make a big difference.

Asked on October 13, 2018 under Estate Planning, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

The sheriff's officer is sort of correct--you cannot be summarily locked out without a court case, BUT the executor (your brother) can bring such a case and will win it (be able to remove you). Also, you don't have "tenancy" rights per se, because you are not a rent-paying tenant: you are a lawful guest (not a trespasser).
A guest is someone allowed to reside in a house, as you were. Guests may be asked to leave at any time by the person who owns or controls the house--in this case, the executor, who has legal authority over your late mother's "estate" (the assets, money and property) she leaves behind, which includes her house). Guests can only remain so long as the person with legal authority chooses to let them stay; however, that permission to stay in the home may be taken away or rescinded at any time, and the guest asked to leave.
If the guest doesn't leave when asked, the person with legal authority over the home may bring a kind of legal action traditionally called an "action for ejectment" (though it is possible that your state has a different name for it). You can think of this legal action as "eviction for nontenants." If your brother the executor brings this kind of action, he will win, since he has the legal right, as executor, to determine who may live there, and as a guest, you have no right to remain once permission is withdrawn. So while it may take anywhere from several weeks to a few months (e.g. depending on how fast your local courts work), your brother can remove you if he wants.
That you had taken care of your mother is commendable, but unfortunately gives you no rights to live there.


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