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: My partner’s dad owns the home we live in. He stopped collecting rent during COVID — but I’m still paying

Dear Quentin,

Four years ago, my husband and I divorced. It became a volatile situation in the end, so I moved my daughter and myself into a house with a friend of a friend, who had rooms to rent in his home. 

My husband stayed in my house (which I owned pre-marriage) while looking for another living situation. After two years, he finally moved out. The house had always been a fixer-upper, and I could not afford the renovation costs on my income alone, so I sold the house. My ex and I were square on the division of profit. I walked away with $70,000.

While living with the friend of a friend, we became romantically involved. He has two children, who also live with us. We function as one big, happy family of five. We share groceries and have meals together. He and I share a bedroom and call each other “partners.” We do not commingle finances. He does not want to get married, and I still pay him rent. 

‘His father owns the home we live in’

Paying rent in perpetuity was never my plan and makes no sense for my financial stability. Over the past four years, I’ve paid him over $40,000. His father owns the home we live in and is leaving it to him in his will.

When I moved in, my partner was paying rent to live in the home, but during the pandemic, money got tight and his father stopped collecting rent. Yet my partner still collects rent from me. I clean and care for our home as an equal partner.

The other day, we had a tense discussion about money and property. He made it clear that the house we live in will go to his children if anything happens to him.

I said that I would like to stop paying rent and merely share in utility expenses. That way, I might have a chance of affording a mortgage on my own property, so that I, too, have a secure home and something to leave my own child.

He feels like it is fair for me to continue paying rent. He says he needs the income, and would be renting to someone else if not to me.

‘My little nest egg diminishes each year’

I cannot quite qualify for a mortgage, but there is a home-buying assistance program that may help me to qualify. The trouble is, if I buy a home through this program, it has to be my primary residence.

I’m not really sure what to do. If my partner got a job, he would no longer “need” the income my rent money provides. But he seems to be taking his time making that happen. Meanwhile, my little nest egg diminishes in value each year. (I have some invested in a CD and some in a “high interest” savings account.)

Do you have any advice for me? I love our family. I do love him and feel loved by him, but he is definitely pragmatic and acts in his own best interest more often than not. 

Nervous about my future in Oregon.

Renter, Divorcée and Girlfriend

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear RDG,

I took the liberty of giving you three pseudonyms that go some way in summing up the recent events in your life. You jumped from divorcée to renter and then girlfriend without truly experiencing emotional and financial independence after your marriage ended. 

Now you need to decide which of these monikers you wish to shed. Your divorce was a good decision, as you escaped from an unhappy marriage, and it’s done and dusted. You love your current partner and the life you have together. But you feel vulnerable and discontent as a renter.

You’re stuck in a limbo somewhere between renter and girlfriend. Those feelings will likely grow over time. Your landlord and partner has made it clear that rent is a priority for him, above building a life together where you share more than future goals, and one with financial stability for both — not just one — of you.

Small decisions and lasting impact

You can explore the home-assistance program, and during that process decide whether your financial independence and owning your own place is something that you need to do. The closer you get to signing, the surer you will be. You can always stop being a renter, become a homeowner and be his girlfriend. 

If your relationship survives the move, you will have achieved a healthy emotional/financial balance where you have both your partner and housing security. If it does not survive the move, you will have confirmation that putting your needs first was the right thing to do. 

It’s often the seemingly small decisions we make that have a lasting impact on the trajectory of our lives, like renting this room. If you make a decision to pursue your financial independence, you should do so without any rancor or regret. This is clearly a priority for you. I suggest you honor that.

Living there rent-free would not be fair to either of you.

By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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