Ask Nicole: Do I Have to Put My Partner’s Name on My Mortgage?

I currently live with my partner (we aren’t married) in a condo that I purchased before I met him. We split the mortgage and HOA fees down the middle.

However, I make more than double what he makes, and he has some credit card debt (roughly $10K) that he is paying off slowly but surely. I want to put my condo on the market next year and buy a larger, nicer version.

I will have enough down payment money on my own. I’m not sure what, if anything, my partner will be able to contribute to the down payment. This is hypothetical right now (and yes, I will talk to him about this!), but — if he cannot contribute to a down payment, is it fair to ask that only my name be on the mortgage? I feel like if I’m immediately putting at least $60K down right off the bat, I should retain ownership. What do you think?

Ownership vs. Partnership

Dear OP:

On the surface, this seems like a fairly simple question to answer. Yes, you can ask that your name be the only one on the mortgage. Partnerships work when everyone clearly communicates what they want and need.

But when you go beyond that basic “communication is the key” platitude, this becomes a really complicated question — both in terms of the legal issues and the relationship issues. Not that I’m saying you’ll have issues! But asking your partner whether he’s cool with being your de facto tenant will no doubt prompt some… discussions.

On the other hand, your partner is already your de facto tenant, right? In that he’s paying a portion of the mortgage and the HOA fees but does not own the condo in which he lives? So it could be as simple as saying “hey, I’m thinking about buying a bigger condo, is that something you’re interested in and would you like to keep this arrangement where you contribute to the mortgage and I own the property?”

Then he could say “sure, that’s cool” or “actually, I’d like to be a co-owner” or “what if we waited a few years until I could save up part of the down payment” or “well, I don’t really want to move” or “what if we got married” or “what if we combined finances” or “this is a good time for me to mention that I’ve been thinking about breaking up.” (Of course, if he’s been thinking about breaking up, he might say “sure, that’s cool” at first and then slowly become more uncomfortable in the relationship until he breaks up with you as you are either packing — or worse, unpacking — boxes. Ask me how I know.)

These are the risks you take when you change the status quo! But, also, your condo is too small for you, so you gotta change that quo at some point.

Before you get started: do you and your partner have a written agreement vis a vis your current condo and its ownership? There have been legal cases where unmarried partners have argued that they should have part ownership of a property because they’ve been making mortgage payments (or partial mortgage payments) for years. Sure, they didn’t make the down payment, but they’ve been helping to pay off the house, so that means they own part of it… right?

On the other hand, I don’t argue that I’m entitled to a partial ownership of my landlord’s building just because I’ve been paying rent (which I’m pretty sure helps him cover the mortgage and other ownership costs). But that’s because I have a nice long lease that details my rights and responsibilities. Do you and your partner have one of those?

Again, this might be a non-issue! Everything could be hunky-dory! The quo could continue in a slightly larger living unit!

Or your partner could think of part of the money that you generate from the sale of your condo as “his,” or at least “ours,” and if you think of it all as “yours” there could be some… discussions. (Or no discussions and a nasty breakup while one of you is angrily trying to peel packing tape off the roll even though there’s that guard on the tape to prevent it from getting stuck to the roll but that guard never works and I NEVER KNEW YOU FELT THAT WAY, WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY ANYTHING?)

I realize that I am sounding dire and despairing and like you need to spend money on a lawyer before you do anything else, and maybe you at least need to look up property laws in your state, just to see?

Ultimately the best advice in your situation is the same advice I’d offer anyone with a relationship dilemma:

  • Clearly communicate what you want.
  • Give your partner a chance to communicate what they want. (If your partner hasn’t been thinking about the topic for as long as you have, they might say one thing right away and then a few days later have a more thorough idea of what they really want. Make that part of the discussion framework — that is, let your partner know you’re expecting them to take some time to reflect before they respond.)
  • If property or ownership is involved, know your legal rights, know your partners’ rights, and get everything in writing.

Have anything to add, Billfolders? I have not been in this type of relationship dilemma myself — I have had housing discussions with former partners, but they’ve all involved renting — so I defer to you.

Communication is the key (to the condo),


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