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RE Q&A: Can Live-In Girlfriend Claim Ownership?

A homeowner paid off his condo and may ask his girlfriend to move in. If he does, can she claim partial ownership at some point in time?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: I own a condominium apartment and have paid off the mortgage. I am romantically involved but not married, and we are considering having her move in with me. How long after she moves in can she claim she wants half my home if we break up? – Roy

Answer: Because you owned your condo unit outright before you moved her in, she likely cannot claim even partial ownership if you break up.

At worst, if she financially assisted with renovations that raised the property value, she might have a claim to part of the increase in value of the property because of the work she helped pay for.

Had you bought the apartment together and she helped pay for the property and mortgage payments, but the title was only in your name, she could have a claim on part of the equity in your apartment.

While it is doubtful that your live-in girlfriend can gain ownership rights in your property, she can gain other rights in the apartment. You cannot just throw her out. You will need to sue and wait until a judge orders her out.

You will need to evict her if she has been paying rent through a lease.

But if she has not, you will need to sue for “unlawful detainer.” This type of lawsuit is used to remove people who formerly had permission to live in your property. Besides your situation, examples include adult children who fail to launch and overstay their welcome in their childhood bedroom, or when a college friend stays “just a few nights” on your couch and then refuses to leave.

If your girlfriend pays rent to live there, you should have a written lease.

Otherwise, a written cohabitation agreement is a great idea. This agreement helps work out the details of living together and what happens if your relationship sours. Think of it as a prenuptial agreement for unmarried people living together.

This question was asked by a reader who lives in Florida, which does not recognize “common-law” marriage. The answer to this question can vary depending on where you live.

Before moving in together, check the rules for your state.

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