Moving in Together Joint Ownership for Unmarried Couples

You’re unmarried, but you want to buy a co-op or condo together. What do you need to know? Will it be difficult winning the board over? How do you plan for possibilities you’d rather not consider, like breakup or death? The decisions you make today may have you thanking yourself–or wondering what were you thinking–somewhere down the line, whether or not you stay together "till death do you part."

Passing the Board

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that as of 1998, there were over four million unmarried couples living together–almost a 50 percent increase from a decade ago. With "living together" becoming more mainstream all the time, how friendly are co-op boards to unmarried couples–including same-sex couples? Legally speaking, in the State of New York they cannot discriminate on the basis of marital status; nor, in New York City, on the basis of gender orientation. And in terms of attitudes, Barbara Fox, president of Fox Residential Group, a real estate brokerage firm in Manhattan, says that it’s really not that sensitive a subject anymore. "It’s very common now for couples to live together. I remember when it wasn’t, and you never told a board that you were living together and not getting married, or didn’t have plans to get married. Today it’s completely different. There are same-sex couples moving into buildings as freely and as easily as heterosexual couples, and boards are very approving and accepting of it."

Fox recommends that cohabiting applicants bring two types of reference letters when applying for co-op membership. "It’s a good idea to get one or two from each individual’s life alone–the ‘I’ve known this person for 20 years’ kind of thing," she explains, "and then get two or three letters from people who know them as a couple. That to me is a good way to go. If it’s a really stuffy building, and you do think that you will be getting married, then it’s a good idea to say that, because boards always like to know that there’s a stable home life. But it’s not the end-all, be-all. I’ve sold a lot of apartments to young–and not young–couples that are just living together and sometimes they get married, and sometimes they continue to live together."

Fox points out that boards may actually perceive an advantage to having an unmarried couple move in as opposed to a single person. "It’s funny, boards would almost rather know both sides of a couple than have a single person move in and not know what other person they might end up with." Steven Ganfer, an attorney with the Manhattan law firm Schwarzfeld, Ganfer, & Shore, says that in the case where only one party in the unmarried couple is buying, normally the board will want to interview both. "A lot of boards will do that even if what you’re doing is putting down one of the persons as an occupant and not a purchaser. Keep in mind under the New York law these days if you didn’t list the other person and immediately after you moved in, the other person came in as a roommate, you would have the right to have that person reside with you. The roommates law permits you to have a roommate. There are some cases now which are trying to indicate that if you knew from the beginning and you didn’t tell the board about what you were going to do, then the board’s consent was fraudulently obtained, therefore they have the right to void the consent given to you."

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