The Moneyist: My friend had a stroke and his brother moved in, refusing to pay rent. When he protested, the brother said, ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Dear Quentin,

A friend of mine had a stroke, with a single-digit percentage chance of survival. While he was in the hospital, his freeloading brother moved into his home without permission. My friend could not live on his own for several years, and his brother would not help him in arranging for a caregiver so he could live in his own home.

He ended up sleeping in a recliner in a 10-by-12-foot room for six years. He asked that the brother pay rent for staying in his immaculate home. My friend’s brother told him, “I take care of your dog and mow the lawn — that is enough rent.” When my friend protested, his brother said, “What are you going to do about it?”

My friend, the homeowner, gave money to his brother for the dog’s care, which we later found out was not used for the dog. The neighbors on both sides mowed the lawn when it got to the “embarrassment stage.” My friend was finally admitted into a rehabilitation facility, and is now making a nearly full recovery.

His brother did not take care of the home, which was remodeled just before my friend’s stroke. So my friend has had to do many repairs to the home to make it livable again. The question is: Does my friend have a case against his brother to recover any rental money, damages or hospital bills for a dog that was also neglected? Things were also missing from the home.

Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned,

It seems like the last thing your friend needs right now is an expensive, ugly and protracted court case over lost income from rent, his dog’s medical bills, and the missing items. Your friend’s brother is effectively a squatter: He moved into the house without permission, and there was no agreement signed. Given these circumstances and the lack of any rental agreement, it would be difficult to charge him for back rent. Call Adult Protective Services.

All of these things are egregious and infuriating, but given his health and the costs involved — and the “he said-he said” nature of the case — I recommend focusing on giving his brother 30 days (standard in most states) to move and/or taking legal steps to remove his brother from the property before he can claim squatters’ rights. His brother is aggressive and is banking on your friend’s continued acquiescence to remain in his home. 

You don’t say where your friend lives, but he needs to reclaim his life first and foremost. According to the American Apartment Owners Association: “Typically, squatters rights laws only apply if an individual has been illegitimately occupying a space for a specific period of time.” Squatters’ rights vary by state: They can be granted “adverse possession” after five years of continued use and maintenance in California, seven years in Utah and Tennessee, and 10 years in New York.

Seek legal counsel. The National Landlord Association or another landlord would be a good start. “A person who stays in the home of a ‘landlord’ for an extended period of time can also be considered to have a lease and be classified as a licensee, depending on state law,” says. “Some states even say it’s acceptable to ask the person to leave and remove his belongings, no eviction notice or legal action necessary, as long as rent wasn’t exchanged.”

“If your tenant doesn’t leave by the deadline, the next step is filing an eviction petition with the courts — some places have housing courts, some have court hearings for eviction cases in county courts — and asking for an unlawful detainer hearing, where a judge listens to your reasons for eviction and checks your notice to vacate,” adds.

And if he still refuses? The sheriff or sheriff’s deputy will physically remove him.

Your friend has survived a stroke. He has come through a lot. And after completing rehab, he has shown himself to be made of tough stuff, likely tougher than his brother — a bully banking on his brother’s good nature. The same mental strength and focus that got him through the debilitating effects of a stroke should help him get through this next challenge.

It’s time for him to reclaim his house and his life, and with a good support system and the right legal advice, he can do it. 

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