RE Q&A: Co-owner Stops Paying His Fair Share

One of a home’s co-owners lost a job and stopped paying his half of the mortgage along with other expenses. What happens next?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: A few years ago, and friend and I bought a small house for both of us to live in. We each have our bedroom and share the kitchen and other areas. We agreed to split the bills, including the monthly mortgage payment.

He lost his job a few months ago and stopped paying his share. I have been paying the mortgage myself because I do not want to hurt my credit, but I am getting sick of it. What can I do? – John

Answer: Whenever multiple people, other than a married couple, own property together, I recommend that they prepare a co-ownership agreement. This contract will discuss each owner’s responsibilities and discuss what happens if a problem, such as the one you are facing, occurs.

Despite the usefulness of this type of agreement, most people do not take this step. From your question, it appears that you do not have one either. Fortunately, you still have options.

The first step when dealing with most disputes is to discuss the problem. Your friend may have options or a new job lined up.

If you can agree to a solution, set deadlines and agree to what happens if the deadline is not met. Agreeing, for example, that you will list the property for sale if he cannot start keeping up his ends of the bills within a month can be a good solution.

If you agree, put it into writing; remember that if someone can say something, they can sign to the same thing.

If you are unable to agree, the law provides a solution. If joint property owners cannot agree on how to use a property, any of the owners can file a “partition” lawsuit. With this type of suit, the court will split the property as fairly as it can. If this was vacant land or a duplex, this might be as simple as drawing a line down the middle and giving each owner half.

However, most homes cannot be split physically like this, so the property could be sold and the money split up after any liens, such as a mortgage, are paid off.

While there is an assumption that each owner is entitled to an equal share, the judge can make adjustments to make things fair, such as if one owner had to pay a larger share of the mortgage, like in your situation.

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