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My sister and I own our parents' home. In July 2000, our mother became unable to live on her own. My sister and her husband didn't want to move in because the house was too small and too old. They most certainly didn't want to care for our mother. My husband and I moved in to care for mom. Before she died, Mom signed a quit claim deed putting me and my sister on the deed. Again, my sister and her husband declined to take up residence. Therefore, my husband and I continue to live there. We have paid for all the upkeep, taxes, insurance, utilities, etc. Some of the expenses were quite steep such as new central heat and air system and new roof.

Somehow, my sister has gotten it in her head that I should pay her rent. I can't exactly see that it is right to pay rent on a house I own, especially since my sister doesn't want to live here. The house is in a highly desirable public school system. My sister doesn't want to sell the house until her 8 year old son has graduated from high school in case he needs to go here. He currently goes to private school. The point is that selling the house is not an option. Neither is her buying my share which I have offered. Don't even think about her selling me her half!

Essentially, is she actually due rent? I've told her that if I pay rent, she will be responsible for half the expenses but that doesn't seem to register in her mind.

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    As a side note, it would have been better not to have used a quit claim deed - as part of the estate the house would have passed to siblings at the current, stepped up basis so there would be little to no taxes upon selling the house. – Jon Custer Jul 29 '20 at 13:47
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    "Don't even think about her selling me her half!" Why not? Is she unwilling to sell it to you? Are you unwilling to buy it? Are you unable to afford it? – stannius Jul 29 '20 at 15:11
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    @stannius Reading the question, it seems that the Sister's intent is to maintain at least partial ownership of the house, so that she can nominally class her son as within the catchment area of the local school (Whether this means: him living with his Aunt; OP being expected to vacate the premises for her sister & family to move in; or just plain old fraud, is left as an exercise for the reader, and is a possible talking point between OP and her sister) In other words, the "We can't sell the house" and the "I can't buy her out" are both the same scenario – Chronocidal Jul 29 '20 at 15:28
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    @user91988 No, OP is owner of some of the house. Fattie just (justifiably) believes that, since OP is using the entire house, they should pay rent on the portion they do not own - but, also, that the owner of that portion should pony up their portion of the expenses (i.e. neither party can "have it both ways") – Chronocidal Jul 29 '20 at 15:48
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    yet another fantastic point noticed by @Chronocidal is that there is likely a fake-school-address play at hand, as well as the other complications. (For non-US'ers, it used to be a pretty common thing to scamper up a fake address, one way or another, to get in to a preferred nearby school district.) (However, indeed, as I understand it, pretty much everywhere in the US the Man has completely clamped down on this, so, indeed it's probably just "wholly misdirected" if indeed that is the case.) – Fattie Jul 29 '20 at 17:57

13 Answers 13

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A good way to figure out what is fair in such a situation is to mentally separate the various roles, and to explore the rights and obligations of the roles first, and to then aggregate them.

Here we have:

  • You, the partial owner
  • Your sister, the partial owner
  • You, the property manager
  • You, the renter

The property owner is responsible for the taxes, upkeep, etc. The owner needs to pay the property manager for the time they've spent on doing work on the property that would generally be the reponsibility of the owner (this includes arranging for the repairs, etc). The owner receives rent from the renter.

Assuming that the ownership is split in equal parts, every expense and every income of the owners ought to be split equally between you and your sister. This means that your sister will owe you-as-owner money for the expenses, she will owe you-as-property-manager half of your salary, and in turn you-as-renter will owe her half of the rent.

Obviously, it will be very much unclear how much time you've worked as property manager, and what a suitable salary for that would be. Similarly, you haven't agreed on what the rent would be. So you can't use just this mental model to fill out a spreadsheet and then see who needs to pay who what.

However, if you and your sister are in a position to discuss this as reasonable adults, this could be a way to structure that discussion.

Typically, one would expect that owning a house pays some profit - meaning that in the calculation above, the property owner would come out with a net plus. Thus, it does seem plausible that you should end up paying your sister some money. But since that plus happens only in the long term, it could be that the expensive repairs aren't really paid off yet.

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    Once the sister asked for rent, she started treating the situation as a business arrangement. This is an excellent way to structure the discussion. – Brian Jul 29 '20 at 14:47
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    +100 for mentioning the property manager aspect – Fattie Jul 29 '20 at 15:03
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    @Fattie I agree that OP and sister have a problem. If they both lawyer up, they will still have the same problem, and lawyer fees. – Eric Duminil Jul 29 '20 at 15:08
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    @Fattie I think you've made your point about lawyers by now. There's nothing wrong with OP and sibling trying to reach an agreement without getting lawyers involved. After all, if that fails, they still have the option to introduce lawyers. – marcelm Jul 29 '20 at 16:00
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    @Fattie The point is to avoid wasting money on lawyers that you don't need. – Neil G Jul 29 '20 at 18:11
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The answer is actually somewhere between "yes" and "no". Think of it this way: if you didn't live in the house, then the house could be rented out, generating some rental income.

Let's say, the house is rented out for $1000 per month. This means that both you and your sister (assuming equal share) get $500 per month. With you living in the house, it cannot be rented out, so your sister is missing out on her $500 per month, which she is right to want to get from you. Another way of looking at it is that you only own half the house - but you are using your sister's half as well - so your sister is right to want to charge rent for it.

At the same time, assuming equal-share ownership, the cost of maintenance and upkeep must be shared equally. This means that whatever rent would be due to your sister, you would subtract half of the cost of replacing the heating system, etc. Continuing with the hypothetical potential rental income of $1000 per month, if you spent $2000 on the upkeep of the house, then your sister is responsible for $1000 of it, thus you can deduct this cost from the rent you otherwise would pay her. In our example this would equal 2 months worth of rent.

To summarize, yes, it is correct for your sister to expect some rent, but it's also correct for you to want your sister to pay toward the maintenance and upkeep of the house, thus reducing the rent you would pay.

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    +1 For indirectly introducing Opportunity Cost. – rrauenza Jul 29 '20 at 18:34
  • "In our example this would equal 2 months worth of rent." If the OP is deducting $1000 (the sister's 50% share of the $2000 in upkeep expense) from the rent, wouldn't that be just one month's worth of rent? – Doug Deden Jul 30 '20 at 22:00
  • @DougDeden the sister's share of rent is 500 per month, so the 1000 expense is 2 months of rent – Aleks G Jul 31 '20 at 7:11
  • @AleksG Gotcha. I had mis-read the $1000 as the rent owed, instead of as the total rental value. It was my mistake -- your answer is clear. – Doug Deden Jul 31 '20 at 14:47
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It's tricky when multiple parties own a house, contribute to the upkeep unequally, and enjoy the benefits of owning the house unequally. I agree with both of you to some extent. She should get some consideration since you get all the benefit of living there, but you should get some consideration for paying the expenses/upkeep. Letting it fall to disrepair would erode her equity in the house. The easiest would have been to sell immediately and split proceeds.

There is no right answer here, it's whatever you two agree to. You could calculate a reasonable rent amount, then deduct from that all the expenses you pay and give her half of the leftover, if any (and either collect the deficit from her or use it to offset future months rent). I would calculate this back from when you and your sister took ownership of the house, so that you get credit for those big ticket items that are intended to last many years.

It's worth noting, that if you want to sell now and she is unwilling, that's her getting some value from owning the house while tying up your equity.

Hopefully you two can come up with something agreeable without creating resentment on either side.

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    Unfortunately, H.CO, I feel this begs the question. "Hopefully you two can come up with something agreeable without creating resentment on either side.". Might as well say "hopefully you win a major lotto". It's the equivalent statement. I'm afraid. Someone has brain cancer, hopefully it goes away; someone owes massive credit card debt, hopefully there's a computer problem and it disappears! The core of the issue is, as a given, in this universe there's zero chance of it "becoming agreeable". the one and only way forward - there's no other way - is the OP has to lawyer up and sell. – Fattie Jul 29 '20 at 14:20
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    @Fattie If they value their relationship more than a few bucks, they might compromise. My point in including that line is that resentment is likely if they can't work out something agreeable, it's not inevitable, it's up to them what they value more. – Hart CO Jul 29 '20 at 14:31
  • Sadly, I feel there is no realistic chance of it happening. (For me, to save the relationship OP should lawyer up this hour and get it sold.) – Fattie Jul 29 '20 at 14:57
  • this user has a really interesting rent/tax question (her title/question is confusingly worded but she cleared it up in the comments to myself ..) money.stackexchange.com/a/128391/41786 – Fattie Aug 1 '20 at 19:21
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It is helpful to imagine that you are two different people, one who is the half-owner of the house and one who is renting the house.

Let's look first at you as the half-owner. You and your sister are each half-owners of a house that is being rented by someone. That means you each are entitled to half the rent but have to pay half the taxes, expenses and upkeep of the house.

Now, let's look at you as the renter. You are responsible for the utilities and paying a fair rent to be divided by the owners.

Putting it all together:

  1. You should pay half a fair market rent to your sister.
  2. You should directly pay all the utilities and other expenses a renter would normally pay.
  3. You and your sister should each pay half the costs of any improvements to the house or other costs an owner would normally pay such as property taxes.
11

Other answers are focusing on a theoretical historical business partnership wearing a "landlord hat", which is one possible way to construe the history since 2000, but that glosses over something: if you had a formal lease from a landlord, you would have formal rights to exclude your sister from use of the property since 2000. Whether the quitclaim title is joint tenancy or tenants in common, you both have full access to use and occupy all parts of the property, and she has had this right historically. You did not pay her for this right.

Assumption: I am making an assumption that the legal occupancy of the house is sufficient that it is legally possible for both families to use the house simultaneously (i.e. by living there you are not preventing her from doing so too), and that you have never explicitly told your sister that she could not use the house for any reason in the past. Perhaps there are examples where she has stayed at or used the property on her own initiative since 2000 as well.

If these assumptions are true, then you have not received a right that a lease would formally sell to you; you have elected to spend what you have spent since 2000; and she has elected to not use the house. It would be entirely fair to to take the position that you owe each other $0 today, if that is a better position for you than imputing market rent and splitting historical expenses.

You can negotiate a future landlord/tenant agreement that formalizes your right to exclude your sister's use of the house with defined rent and expenses as discussed in all of the other answers.

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I think the best solution is to get a mortgage for half the home's value and pay your sister. I know you said that it was "out of the question", but you might want to discuss it as an option because you're about to enter into a possibly more unpleasant situation.

I agree with the other answers that the fair thing to do is to pay your sister half the rent and collect from your sister half of the property management fees. However, the problem with that solution is that it means entering into a long term financial relationship with your sister. I think a lot of the other answers are underestimating the value of having a good relationship with your sister.

What happens if in your mock-rental agreement, you want to install, say a furnace, and your sister (a part owner) disagrees? She's essentially paying for half of it. She might want to buy the cheapest furnace. You might want a better one. Over decades, all of these financial questions might strain your relationship.

It might be easier to roll all of that strain into a single transaction whereby you agree on the total value of the house. You don't need to put the house on the market. You can do this by simply auctioning the house between the two of you: whoever offers the most money for the other's half of the house wins.

Get a mortgage and enjoy the good relationship you have with your sister!

7

There's two sets of two sides to this. There's your side vs her side, and there's equitable vs legal solutions.

I'm sure it seems like your sister is being unfair, or somehow greedy, but the reality is that she is 1/2 owner, and you have been getting free benefit at her expense for a long time. I want to say that clearly upfront because I'm sure this is all tangled up in baggage about things like you helping your mother before she died, which is nice, but irrelevant and you have to try to separate the situation from that. If you've got this "I earned the house by being there for mom" complex going on, you must try to get over that. For one thing it's a bone to pick with your late mother for how she drew her will, not a bone with your sister, and secondly it's simply not the reality of the current ownership situation. You say you "can't exactly see that it is right to pay rent on a home I own", except you don't own it, you own half of it, a clear cut fact. You say "especially because my sister doesn't want to live there", that doesn't make sense, imagine a tenant feeling justified in skipping rent payments because the property owner doesn't want to live there...

You have been basically living in this house for free, paying only taxes, which you say don't register with your sister. I wonder if it's really that it "doesn't register", or more that she's shrugging that off as being fine, which is not the reaction you expect. I would guess the taxes+insurance are a few (maybe 5) thousand per year, and comparable rent would be about 15-20 thousand per year or more. You're trying to construe that those two figures are roughly equal and it would be a wash, which it isn't, and your sister is rightly saying "sure paying half the taxes would be a fine deal, if I was getting half of market rate for the house I own half of, and am legitimately entitled to".

Many good answers describe the simple math of paying her (rent - expenses)/2. You could have a real estate agent find comparable rent and do that calculation. This is equitable but not legal. Meaning if she changes her mind in the future about the deal, you have no ground to stand on. This is why (more so than doing battle) it's important to have a lawyer involved and write up legal contracts. You are in a bad situation because nothing was agreed to at the beginning and so neither side will properly perceive fairness. Continuing without contracts leaves it is open to longer, more expensive and nasty legal disagreements in the future. Also, while I say paying the rent would be equitable, it's not entirely -- since you've been living there not paying rent for over 15 years, it could be argued you owe her (rent - expenses)/2 going forward, in addition to back pay (with adjustments for previous rent price trends) for the entire time you've been living in that house essentially 1/2 off of your sisters dime. That could easily add up to more than the cost of buying her out of the house -- such is the dilemma of living in a house someone else owns. However since there was no agreement in the beginning you've probably gotten away with skimming this value from her in a way she has no recompense for - which is legal, but in my view not equitable. Thus the best you can do now, in my opinion, is get out now while you're ahead.

You say selling the house is not an option, but I think you should re-examine and see that it is the only option. Especially if you hope to maintain any relationship with your sister (to preclude nasty family-destroying legal battles in the future). Lets say you find comparable rent and start paying her (rent - (taxes + insurance)/12)/2 every month, and then the heater breaks again and at the end of the year you try to give her a bill for half that and she refuses -- off to court you go against your family. Or she thinks the siding needs to be fixed, but you don't want to deal with it? Or lets say your house floods and you get an insurance claim and there is money left over after the repairs, who keeps it? What if you want to make improvements that your sister would not agree to? Who is responsible for the cost/decisions and how is the benefit divided? What happens when comparable rent goes up significantly and it's time for you to start paying more, who will bring it up and how much resentment accrues before someone does? Every one of these events will create miserable financial/familial tension as long as you remain in the situation.

On the other hand, your sister cannot make you a prisoner to the house for the next 10 years, while expecting this rent as a guarantee until her kid graduates highschool. She refuses to buy you out, that's her prerogative. The remaining options are for you to sell your half, and force her to sell her half as well, (this is the nicest possible bow in which to wrap this up, with the highest chance of still having a family afterward). The other option is you buying out her half, to which you (for unexplained reasons) say "don't even think about it". I can only assume you mean you are unwilling because you think it would be super unfair to you. If so, I disagree, it's the definition of fair. Since you've been living there for free all this time, you could think of it like getting a good deal on backpaying all the rent you ignored for 15-20 years AND getting ownership of the house. A few ticks in your question hint to me that you feel entitled to the house in full, while simultaneously being aware your sister owns half of it. It's unfair of you to imagine that it's unfair to you to be expected to either buy the half you don't own, or compensate the other owner in some way like rent.

Your best hope for your future happiness and family preservation is to recognize emotionally what you already know rationally, that your sister owns half of the house and is entitled to half the benefit of that asset. Either buy her out, paying her what she is legitimately owed -- or get her to agree that both of you choosing to sell the house together is the best path for each of you, and get out of there, close the door on this and move forward with your life. Even if she refuses to sell, getting a court order forcing her to sell her half while disagreeable, at least leaves SOME room to make up and stay sisters after the fact. Whereas staying in a situation where every financial decision in your home has to be approved and/or argued over with your sister, is a recipe for "how much can we hate each other before one of us dies".

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  • the OP is also acting as property manager. – Fattie Aug 3 '20 at 17:12
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Take the situation almost exactly as it is, except that it is me living in the house and renting it, not you.

There would be an agreement between me, you and your sister how much rent I pay, and what other cost I would pay, like utility bills. You would take the rent, then you would have to pay for maintenance and everything else I don’t pay, and what remains is shared between you and your sister. Say the rent is $2,000, utility bills are $400, maintenance and repair are $600. I would pay $2,400 for rent and utilities, you would have $1,400 for rent minus maintenance, and you and you sister would each get $700.

So your sister gets $700. Since it’s not me renting but you, we can now start a complicated calculation, or we can just say you pay all the utilities and repairs and hand over $700.

More precisely: You take the fair rent value that would be paid to the landlord, subtract all the repairs etc. that the landlord has to pay, and you give half of that to your sister.

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  • +1 for the logical approach. The question hit HNQ list and getting far more attention than it would otherwise. I hope OP returns to update how the next conversation went. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jul 29 '20 at 18:16
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Your sister should be paying half the capital improvements and taxes but not utilities. And you should be paying half the rent the house would go for and all utilities. In other words, act like your both renting the house out. And you each contribute half to the expenses. And you each get half the rent. Then you as the renter have to pay rent and utilities. It just happens that half the rent goes to you.

Another option would be to buy your sister out. What if you ask realtor to price your house. Divide that in half. Pay your sister that amount in a monthly amount over 15-30 years. If house is sold in the future, you pay her whatever is remaining on what you owe. Seems to simplify things in my head at least. It's good for you because you get benefit over any appreciation since you are not paying interest. And good for your sister because she gets income.

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    Paying the amount over 15-30 years is a massive gift from the sister to the OP. Interest free loans have a significant value. The sister may be happy to make that gift, but it should be seen in that context – Richard Tingle Jul 29 '20 at 17:20
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    I would heavily discourage entering a 15-30 year payment plan with family. If you are going to get a mortgage, get one from a financial institution and pay off the sister with a lump sum. – Michael Richardson Jul 29 '20 at 17:59
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    @MichaelRichardson Yeah, I was going to say this. Imagine if you have to miss payments. People in this thread seem to be underestimating the value of having a good relationship with your sister. Better to have a long term contract with a bank. – Neil G Jul 29 '20 at 18:17
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I've told her that if I pay rent, she will be responsible for half the expenses but that doesn't seem to register in her mind.

Most answers are structured to treat your sister as a sort of partial landlord in charge of half the expenses. Lowering your rent to account for expenses has two advantages:

  • For your sister, the rent paid is more predictable.
  • For you, you can pay for expenses with no concern that your sister will refuse to contribute her half (i.e., if she thinks the expense is unnecessary).

For the fixed rent approach, do as follows:

  • A. Estimate how much you spend a month on expenses. Don't include utilities; pay 100% of those yourself. If the house is in disrepair, amortize these costs out over a longer period of time(*).
  • B. Estimate how much rent is reasonable.
  • Tell your sister you will pay (B-A)/2 in rent, and why. Note that dividing by 2 is because you each own half the house, so your sister only needs to pay for half expenses and receive half rent. If (B-A)/2 is low or negative, you have probably set B too low; typically it's possible to turn a house's equity into income via rentals.

(*) If you are front-loading a lot of expenses, you may want to write out a contract (with a lawyer!) stating that ending the agreement requires your sister to pay for part of the expenses. Otherwise, your sister could refute the agreement in a few years and you'd be out a bunch of repair costs that should have been partially shouldered by your sister.

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TL;DR

Talk to a lawyer.


You haven't really stated a desired outcome but it seems you are open to all possibilities.

You can, without consent from her, sell your half of the property to an interested buyer. The hope is that this would scare and put her in quite an undesirable position and make her more amicable.

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/real-estate/fl-bz-gary-singer-column-inherited-property-20181002-story.html

The tricky part is finding a buyer willing to pay 50% of the value of the house. Usually the buyer with such interests is interested in paying well below market value. What's worse is that if the new roof costed and added $15k of value then you'll only recoup $7.5k at best.

Even if she miraculously wanted to sell you her half then you would have to deduct 50% of large upkeep expenses since you footed the entire bill. It sounds incredibly difficult to persuade this person into fairness so this might be off the table anyways.

If she expects rent then demand back-pay for all of the large expenses like the HVAC and the roof. A leaky faucet is not something that should be brought up unless it led to major overhaul of the plumbing.

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    The first two lines here are, basically, perfect. – Fattie Jul 29 '20 at 18:10
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The current situation is an oral precarium or commodate agreement between you and your sister: You may use her half of the house for no compensation. You keep the thing (her half of the house) in a good state so that you can return it to the lender (your sister) without deteroration.

This arrangement is by no means unusual. The lender does not enjoy rent payments, but he has a number of other benefits concerning responsibilities and liability. This form of contract is mostly used when

  • the property cannot be easily offered on the free market (rent or sale)
  • lender and borrower know and trust each other.
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Unfortunately there is only one solution to such situations.

Get the house on the market today.

selling the house is not an option.

For better or worse, that sentence is equivalent to "you need a lawyer", unfortunately.

Get the house sold.

There's just no other solution to these situations.

And indeed:

To simply copy/paste @Chronocidal's comment:

"The correct answer to these questions is not 'get a lawyer', but 'why didn't you get a lawyer to start with?'"

And also unimproveable:

a contract between the siblings should have been sorted out during or immediately after the quitclaim deed (and, had a quitclaim deed not been used before the mother's death, a contract would probably have been recommended by a professional executor were one used for the execution of her will).

To salvage the personal relationship, immediately hire some professionals and contract it up.

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    That's the equivalent to "you should switch jobs" - answers on workplace. It is indeed possible to talk to people and work something out. – Christian Jul 29 '20 at 13:11
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    @Christian , you're completely wrong (sadly). I'd happily give 20:1 odds that this will never, ever work out. Never. Every single day, the horror is growing. – Fattie Jul 29 '20 at 14:18
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    Unfortunately, trying to sell the house with shared ownership where one party is adamantly against selling will involve so much lawyer's fees that it would make selling pointless. – Aleks G Jul 29 '20 at 15:10
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    +1 - The only thing that would improve this answer is the "dumpster fire" reference from one of your comments. OP has spelled out the classic Kobayashi Maru scenario, and Fattie addressed it here. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jul 29 '20 at 16:53
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    I suggest, change your fine nickname to "JTP - Apologise to Monica oh and also reinstate fattie on workplace" :) Online communications is a bit of a high wire act (especially if you, uh, tread the line). It's often unclear whether one is being pro or con an issue; something said with a smile and beer in real life which is obviously totally supportive can come off as just rude online. Anyway... – Fattie Jul 29 '20 at 18:07

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