Verbal agreements between family members often create problematic situations with regard to living arrangements.
A reader writes that, a few years ago, her son and his wife suggested that their double garage be converted into a flatlet for her and her partner. Part of this arrangement included that a new double garage be constructed on the property.
The financing for these alterations was provided by the reader who raised a bond on another erf she owns. She also agreed to pay the monthly electricity charges in respect of the whole property, not only the flat, while her son and daughter-in-law would take care of the rates and garden services.
Unfortunately, four years later, the reader’s son and his wife got divorced. He moved out and his ex-wife remains on the property with his mother.
Our reader’s concerns relate to whether her son’s ex-wife can evict her from the property without refunding her for the improvements made at her own expense.
Her former daughter-in-law refuses to reduce the agreement between them to writing and the reader is concerned what the effect will be on her rights, particularly when she reaches retirement age.
There are two aspects that need to be considered says Rian du Toit from DTS Attorneys in Port Elizabeth.
“Firstly, the right to live on the said property and, secondly, the improvements on someone else’s property paid for by the reader.”
In the absence of the right to live on the property being registered against the title deed, which it does not appear was the case here, it simply remains a personal right, says Du Toit.
Should the owner of the property commence with eviction proceedings, Du Toit says the terms of the agreement may be used as a defence.
“The oral nature of the agreement doesn’t make it any less binding, it is simply more difficult to prove its terms.”
According to Charlotte Vermaak from Chas Everitt in PE, there are a few important aspects to highlight as far as improvements to the property are concerned.
“In this instance, it is clear that the owner of the property consented to the improvements that were made and these almost certainly increased the value of the property.”
In the event of the reader being successfully evicted, for whatever reason, Vermaak says she certainly has grounds for compensation.
“It is clear that there is a basis for a claim against the owner, whoever that may be, founded on the improvements made to the property.”