Undisclosed Marriage or Domestic Partnership and Title

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I purchased a house in DELETED with two friends. Unbeknownst to us, one of them was in a legal domestic partnership relationship that she withheld from us (we knew about the relationship, just not about the legal part). We each had to sign these Domestic Partnership Addendums to our loan application. She did not indicate she had a domestic partnership relationship through that form. She and her partner split. The partner filed for dissolution in November and in her paperwork has named our property as joint property. Our "friend" has denied that her partner has any legal right to the property.

Apart from this mess, this house partner ...DELETED... has been a terror since we got the house. I have offered to buy her out three times since DELETED. THEN I found out she lied about her Domestic Partner situation.

Can I force her off the deed for fraud (since she clearly lied about the DP situation?) OR, can I force her to either get her partner to sign a Quitclaim Deed (or something like that) and, if she can't, then she has to remove herself from the Deed of Trust?

My feeling is that she intentionally committed fraud and therefore the Deed of Trust is either invalid or her part of it is. AND I dont feel like I should have to "buy" her out since she lied.

Please tell me you have an answer!!!

The best answer I can give is that this looks like a matter for an attorney. There's a lot of complexity to your situation, and my knowledge is limited. That said, I'll be glad to share my understanding of the issues.

You have run straight into an issue that bites folks all of the time. My understanding of the domestic partnership arrangement is that it is legally the equivalent of marriage with the exception of a couple of issues of which real estate title is not one. This makes your situation basically the same one as has been biting victims of gold-digging spouses for as long as their has been marriage and law and ownership.

You talk about the Trust Deed and Domestic Partner Addendums. However, those are between the lender and each of you individually, not between your group of partners. The main questions are, "In what manner do you hold title?" together with, "What sort of a business partnership do you have?"

For most people, the default title arrangement is "Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship." What this means is that you're all equal, undivided partners. If one of you gets married or domestically partnered, that new member becomes an equal partner. Nice for them. Not so nice for you.

This is a situation where "tenants in common" would likely serve the interests of business partners better. Tenants in common can hold other shares of ownership besides precisely equal. So if they put up only ten percent of the money, they can own ten percent, whereas if they put up ninety percent of the money, they can be ninety percent partners - or whatever arrangement you all agree to. If they get married or become domestically partnered, the spouse or partner only gets a portion of their share under the tenants in common arrangement.

In the case of a trust, it's whatever the trust agreement says. If you have a partnership agreement amongst yourselves, even better, because it can give explicit recourse for situations like this. Corporate ownership has its advantages as well. There are situations where each of these is appropriate. It all depends upon whats important to each of the partners and appropriate to the situation.

That said, whatever you've got is what you're stuck with. You can't go back to the beginning and change the situation now. You've found out first-hand about why the various forms of ownership came into being. If everyone was always a reasonable responsible adult, there would be no need for the alternative forms of ownership to have evolved. Even if you've got nothing written, though, dueling attorneys is a horrible way to settle the matter. It's likely to be a lot more efficient to sit down with a mediator and see if you can come to an agreement everyone can agree upon. When everyone's paying a couple hundred dollars per hour for an attorney, any advantage they might have gotten gets eroded quickly, and it's not very long before everyone emerges poorer for the experience.

At last resort, you do appear to be effectively the victim of fraud and should be able to use that as some leverage, although my understanding is that the law would mostly treat it as an additional side issue rather than the central fact of the matter. But when attorneys and the courts get involved, there aren't any easy answers, and the whole thing leaves your control when you submit it to the law. The plain fact of the matter is that it might be smart or fair to do a lot of things, yet it's unlikely you're going to be able to force anyone to do anything. Even if your partners from the nether regions are completely insane, you're likely to come out better overall if you can come to some sort of mutual agreement you can all live with, rather than paying attorneys and missing work for court. One more example of why, in real estate, an ounce of prevention is usually worth a lot more than a pound of cure.

Caveat Emptor


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on June 24, 2007 10:01 AM.

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