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Claiming Rights To A Home You’ve Lived In But Don’t Own

Ginny:  I have a question about property taxes and homeownership. I have paid the property taxes for a home that belonged to my sister and brother-in-law for more than 10 years. They didn’t pay for the house; instead we just used their names to get the loan.  John B., Portland, OR

I lived in the house for more than 25 years and paid the property taxes. My parents paid off the home loan before they died, which was 10 years ago. Does this give me any claim to the ownership of the property?

John:  If your sister and brother-in-law obtained the mortgage on the home and they are on the title to the home, it would seem that they are the owners of the home. The question you’re asking is whether you can claim ownership of the home by virtue of having paid the real estate taxes for the past 10 years.

There is too much information missing in your email for me to give you a definitive answer. The real question for us is whether everybody in your family feels that the home is yours or should be yours. If your sister and brother-in-law feel that the home is really yours, then it may be time for them to transfer the ownership of the home to you.

You mentioned that they took out a home loan, but you didn’t say whether you made the payments on that loan. In some families, when people have bad credit, family members with better credit help their siblings out and use their credit to obtain financing for the purchase of a home. Eventually, when the family members living in the home have established their credit, they can “buy” the home from the family member and obtain a new loan in their own name.

So, if you and your sister are close, you can investigate refinancing the loan on the home, buying out your sister and brother-in-law and putting the home in your own name.

Usually for a non-owner of a property to get “rights” to the home, there are several things that have to happen, one of which is paying the real estate taxes every year for many years in a row. But you can have a tenant live in a property who pays the real estate taxes and you can have a family member live in a home and agree to pay the expenses of the home, including the real estate taxes, so typically more than just the payment of the real estate taxes has to happen for you to have a claim of ownership to the property.

Traditionally, people talk about adverse possession and the ability to become the rightful owner of a piece of property against the wishes of the prior owner. Without getting into great detail, the person looking to become the owner of the property must make a claim to the property that is adverse to the ownership rights of the owner.

That is to say, you’d have to live in the home continuously for 21 years (or less in some locations), you’d have to claim to all that the home is yours, you can’t have the permission of the owner to live in the home, you must pay the real estate taxes and other expenses of the home, and you must continuously live in the home for the entire required time period.

Based on the limited information in your email, I doubt that you fall into the category of a person who claims the ownership right of the home and doesn’t have or never received permission to live in the home by the owner on the title.