The Moneyologist: I bought my son a trailer — but his girlfriend moved her family in

Dear Moneyologist,

My 50-year-old son has been living with a girl who is about the same age (who we have known since they were in high school) and last year they went on vacation to Florida. His girlfriend wanted to stay with her friends there and work while my son came back to Ohio to save up money to relocate and get a place down there after a few months. She found a good deal on a mobile home park for people aged 55 and over.

My son is extremely talented and a hard worker and has saved $20,000 and is ready to relocate. She had always been a hard worker and seemed of good character. I let her sign my name on the title of a mobile home as they did not have the finances to qualify, and agreed to help them with the payments. My son sent her the $3,000 for the deposit on the trailer and there is $400 a month lot rent which he has paid.

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She has a part-time job but we are beginning to fear she is going through some midlife crisis and acting irresponsibly. She let her own son and his girlfriend move in even though it’s only a small two-bedroom place. If I were to go for visits I would not even have a room to stay in. My son was planning on moving down there at the end of September; he has a job all lined up and they want him ASAP. He is beside himself and wants to end the relationship and all of them to get out!

She was supposed to send me the title and never has done so; she began texting me recently to tell me how mean my son has been to her, obviously hoping to get on my good side since the place is in my name. Then she told me they would get out and she would leave the title and the keys with the manager but told my son the kids could get night jobs and stay out of his way.

My son works all the time so I told him I would call and talk to the manager about the whole situation and also contact a company down there who evicts people for a fee. Could you let me know where we stand in this awful situation? He wants to go run them off, but I’ve heard you can get in real trouble for that. What about changing the locks and putting their belongings out? I’d like to just sell the place, but want them out.

Carolyn in Ohio

Dear Carolyn,

Stop. Don’t do anything you will regret later. That includes hiring a shady company to evict these people.

There does not need to be any argument, changing of locks, midnight (or, indeed, midday) escapades where someone breaks into the trailer and boxes up your son’s girlfriend’s stuff.

The Moneyologist

Florida Statute 83.67 states that it is illegal for a landlord or owner to do anything to force a tenant or even invited guest to leave, including changing the locks or turning off the utilities. “A landlord of any dwelling unit governed by this part shall not remove the outside doors, locks, roof, walls, or windows of the unit except for purposes of maintenance, repair, or replacement; and the landlord shall not remove the tenant’s personal property from the dwelling unit.” You could find yourself on the wrong side of the law, instead.

You would need to prove there is a landlord-tenant relationship. “If there is a landlord-tenant relationship between the parties, the landlord would need to file an eviction action,” says Stephen Hachey, a Tampa, Fla.-based real estate lawyer. This landlord-tenant relationship is established by either a signed written lease or even an oral lease and that relationship exists even if the tenant has not made a payment, he says. The receipt of a rent payment is enough to provide evidence of an oral lease.

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If you cannot establish a landlord-tenant relationship, you have another legal option: File an ejectment action. “An ejectment action is used to eject an unwanted guest who once may have had permission to live in the property,” Hachey says. “In order to file for ejectment action, there must not be any landlord-tenant relationship between the parties. An ejectment action needs to be filed in Circuit Court, is more costly, and takes significantly longer than an eviction action.” Given the costs involved, you would obviously be best avoiding this.

Don’t get caught up in all the drama. Your son should go to Florida, move into this trailer and, hopefully, get the title deed. There does not need to be any argument, changing of locks, midnight (or, indeed, midday) escapades where someone breaks into the trailer and boxes up your son’s girlfriend’s stuff. This is really very simple. Once he is there, he can tell them that the current arrangement won’t work and direct them to a local paper or website with listings. When it comes to other people’s home and the law, you should tread very, very carefully.

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