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Condo co-owners can't agree on selling it

By ROBERT J. BRUSS
Published May 19, 2007


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Q: A few years ago, my husband's brother talked him into co-signing on a mortgage so the brother could buy a condominium. My husband had good credit, but his brother did not. Since then, his brother has been in and out of jail and doesn't work steadily. Often my husband has to pay all or part of the mortgage to keep the condo out of default. My husband wants his brother to sell the condo (on which they could clear at least $75, 000), but he refuses. What can my husband do to get out of this mess?

A: Presuming he is a title co-owner, your husband can bring a partition lawsuit to force the sale of the property, with the sale's proceeds divided between the co-owners. He will need a real estate attorney to handle the details.

If I were your husband, I would sit down with the brother, explain the facts, and suggest they agree to sell the condo without the costs of a partition lawsuit.

No written agreement

Q: My fiancee and I are splitting after a 10-year relationship. During this time, we bought two single-family rental properties and one duplex. When we began acquiring these properties, my credit was poor because of a bankruptcy, so all the property is in her name. I am worried that nothing is in my name. What should I do to protect myself and my interest in these properties?

A: Consult the best real estate attorney in town. Unless you have a written agreement, you might find it very difficult to prove there was an oral agreement to co-own the properties and split the profits upon sale. Now is the time to determine your legal rights.

You might need to bring a legal action for a "declaratory judgment, " asking the court to determine your legal rights. Your real estate attorney will probably recommend recording a lis pendens against the property titles to prevent their sale or refinance pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Hope that you will be able to work out a fair settlement so legal action does not become necessary. Your situation is a classic example of why it is so important to put everything in writing.

Get junk fee refunded

Q: As a home seller who paid my listing broker a 5 percent sales commission (split equally with the broker who obtained the buyer), I was very upset when, at the closing, my broker demanded I pay a $395 "administration fee." She said this is "standard" now. Because I wanted to get the sale closed, I agreed to pay. However, when I re-read my listing contract, I didn't see anything about a $395 administration fee. I later talked with several realty agents I know, and they said they don't charge such fees on top of a sales commission. Is this junk fee legal?

A: If you did not agree to pay the $395 administration junk fee, on top of your sales commission, as part of the listing contract, you should not have to pay.

I suggest you send a letter to the broker insisting the $395 be refunded within 10 business days. If you do not receive the refund, take the broker to local small claims court for breach of contract and fraud because you were not obligated to pay.

You can send e-mail to Robert J. Bruss by visiting his Web site, www.bobbruss.com. Click on "Ask Bob a Real Estate Question." Or write to Robert J. Bruss, 251 Park Road, Burlingame, CA 94010.

[Last modified May 18, 2007, 10:50:17]


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