Clubbing Together with a Friend to Buy a Home? See a Lawyer First

It makes sense for friends to club together so that they can buy properties they would be unable to afford by themselves. However, a cautionary High Court ruling showed that such arrangements are only wise if lawyers are consulted so that all concerned know exactly where they stand from the outset.

The case concerned two work colleagues, one of whom had £50,000 to put towards the purchase of a home of her own. Her credit rating was, however, too poor for her to obtain a mortgage. She had discussions with her colleague (the landlord) as to whether the latter might be able to assist her in buying a property.

A suitable property was purchased in the landlord's name. The purchase was mainly financed by a buy-to-let mortgage, but the tenant contributed her £50,000 and the landlord £60,000. The tenant had lived in the property under an assured shorthold tenancy for eight years since its purchase.

After the landlord sought possession of the property, citing substantial rent arrears, the tenant asserted that it had always been agreed between them that the property was to be her own home. She claimed that the tenancy was a sham that had been entered into as a temporary device to enable the property to be purchased with the assistance of the landlord's money. She said that it was understood between them that she would take over ownership of the property and the mortgage when she repaid the landlord for the investment she had made.

The landlord, however, gave a very different account of what had been agreed prior to the purchase. Pointing out that she alone had met the mortgage instalments, she said that the lease genuinely reflected their intentions. She asserted that the tenant had agreed that, once her credit score improved, she would purchase the property from her at its full market value, discounted by the £50,000 she had contributed to the purchase price.

Following a trial, a judge preferred the landlord's account and found that the tenancy agreement was binding. The landlord was granted the possession order sought and the tenant was ordered to pay her more than £67,000 in rent arrears. The judge also ruled that the tenant had no beneficial interest in the property despite her £50,000 contribution. In dismissing the tenant's appeal against that outcome, the High Court found that the judge's findings were open to him on the evidence.