Can an occupant of real property obtain ownership rights to it?

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Can an occupant of real property obtain ownership rights to it?

My grandfather bought a townhouse and let me and my wife live there for free. Now we are getting a divorce. My grandfather now wants to sell it. Can my wife’s lawyer stop him from doing that? Or is entitled to a share of it even though she has nothing to do with it.

Asked on November 3, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

If the townhouse is owned by your grandfather and your soon-to-be-ex-wife is not on the title or otherwise has any ownership interest in it, she cannot prevent your grandfather from evicting her or selling the property. If she contributed in some material fashion to the purchase of the townhome--even if she was not on the title or deed--it is *possible* that  she could claim an equitable interest in it sufficient to allow her some proportionate share of the proceeds. However, if she only paid rent as a tenant (including paying "rent" by paying utilities, taxes, etc.)--or paid no rent whatsoever--she would not be entitled to any share of the proceeds.

It is important to note that your grandfather should, prior to selling the home, evict her, which has to be done through the courts, even if she never paid rent and had no lease. A lawyer can help him do this; it's important in eviction to do the paperwork right, so having a lawyer's assistance would be a worthwhile investment. Note also that proper notice must be provided her, which notice will depend on the exact situation; again, a lawyer can help with this.


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