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Romero v. Sanchez

A-2969-07T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

DEEDS — Where parties who actually put up the money choose to have other persons named on the deed, such a financial relationship can be the basis for a court considering both parties to be alter egos of each other and only giving relief to one of those parties when involved in a deed dispute.

A house was purchased by an unmarried couple, a mother and a father, who had children together. Although they paid the down payment, title was put in the name of the children’s grandfather, who lived in the basement of the house. Three years after moving in, the father, who was not in the country legally, returned to his home country. After the father returned six years later, he and the mother got into a dispute over ownership of the house. The mother sued the father and grandfather for a declaration that she was the sole owner of the house, and alternatively, for an order that the house be sold and the proceeds be split according to each party’s ownership interest. The mother testified that she and the father paid for the house and that the grandfather never paid anything. She also testified that while the father was away, she paid the mortgage and expenses for the house out of funds she earned running a childcare center in the house. The father and grandfather testified that the grandfather paid the down payment and everything else, including payments under the mortgage, and that the couple contributed no money towards the house except for rent. They also claimed that the mother agreed that the money paid by her for house expenses only constituted rent.

The lower court found that the house had been paid for by the mother and father and that the property had been placed in the grandfather’s name because of the husband’s immigration status at the time. It also found that the parties agreed that the mother would make the mortgage payments while the father was out of the country and that they agreed that the grandfather would transfer title of the home to the mother and father after he returned. Thus, the lower court determined that the house legally belonged to the mother and grandfather in equal shares and that the mother retained the right to purchase the grandfather’s share of the house and that if she could not do so, the grandfather would then have the right to purchase the mother’s share of the house. If neither party could buy out the other’s share, the house was to be sold and the proceeds were to be split evenly between the mother and grandfather.

On appeal, the Appellate Division found that the documentary evidence on the record supported the lower court’s determination that the grandfather did not earn or have the necessary funds to purchase the house and that the mother was entitled to a one-half ownership interest in the house. It also found that the lower court correctly placed one half of the property’s interest with the grandfather given the father’s use of the grandfather’s name to open a bank account and because the grandfather acted for the father in the purchase of the house. The lower court’s finding that the financial relationship between the father and grandfather indicated that relief for the grandfather was also relief for the father, who were considered alter egos, was held to be correct. Based on its findings and conclusions, the Court affirmed the lower court’s declaration that the mother and grandfather each held a one-half interest in the house.

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