What are my rights to recoup money for improvements thatI have put into my mother-in-law’s home?

UPDATED: Sep 15, 2011

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What are my rights to recoup money for improvements thatI have put into my mother-in-law’s home?

I have lived in this house for over 22 years. I maintain the yard with my money and have made improvement’s – concrete driveways, block walls, installed drains, fixed windows and many other things. She refuses to do any updates and the house is falling apart – wood floors are rotting any, washroom has so much mold in it my wife won’t go in there, bathroom has mold coming down the walls. She won’t let me fix it. What rights do I have? I don’t pay rent but she lives there to. I like to put a lien on it but don’t no how. I what what’s owed to me.

Asked on September 15, 2011 under Real Estate Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

While it may be worthwhile for you to speak with an attorney in person, to thoroughly evaluate your situation, there is a good chance you don't have any right to any compensation.

1) IF there was an agreement between you and your mother in law that you would either be paid the value of improvements, paid for your time spent working on them, or receive some interest in the house in exchange for doing them, that agreement may be enforceable--in that case, you'd likely have some claim.

2) However, you don't mention any agreement; and in the absence of any agreement, you cannot obligate your mother in law to repay you--you cannot voluntarily do work for a person, or make gifts to them, and thereby force them to owe you anything. You chose to do the work; you could have refused to do so. Simply because you chose voluntarily to do certain things, without an agreement for compensation, doesn't create any rights or obligagtions.

2a) Similarly, without agreement in place, your doing the things you did do not give you any interest in or control over the home.

3) Note that in the alternative, it's possible that instead of concluding that your work was a "gift," it's possible that a court could conclude it was "rent"--that you made repairs, etc. as payment to be allowed to live there. That conclusion, too, would not entitle you to repayment or an say over the home.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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