Does a Live-In Friend Paying Utilities and Expenses Have Any Legal Claim to My Home?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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In a situation like this, you want to avoid any chance that the other person could claim an agreement existed that in exchange for the monetary assistance—paying part or all of the mortgage or the utilities—he or she would gain some rights in or to the house. If a case could be made by that person that there was such an understanding or agreement, then even if it is not strictly enforceable as a contract (such as if it does not meet some of the criteria for a contract regarding the ownership of real estate, which typically must be in writing), a court, in the interest or fairness (or “equity” as the law often calls it) may still give or impute some interest to the other person.

The best way to avoid a misunderstanding about the terms of any agreement or arrangement is to set out the correct terms in writing, signed by both parties. If there is a written agreement setting out what each party has to get and what each one has to give, then it becomes much harder, if not impossible, for one of the parties to claim that there was some other agreement.

As a general matter, for a contract of any kind to be enforceable, there must be consideration on both sides—a quid pro quo, or getting something for something. So one possibility would be to treat the other person’s contributions as rent: in exchange for paying mortgage, taxes, utilities, or whatever, he or she gains the right to live there. Even if the lease is a month to month, so it’s essentially “pay as you go,” this approach would show that the payments are exchange for tenancy, not some interest in the home—and if it’s a month to month, it could be terminated or altered with 30 days notice.

Another possibility, if the payments truly are a “gift,” would be to simply have the other person execute some document stating exactly that, making it clear that the payments are a gift, with no expectation of anything in return. There are many ways to set this up. Think about what you want to do, then an attorney can help you draft the appropriate paperwork.

Also, think about the tax implications; being paid by another person can be income, so may wish to also consult with a tax preparer about how to do this minimize any tax liability.

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