How to split bills with a girlfriend if you own 100% equity

Landlord Forums & Rental Property Questions 75 Replies

I need some advice from any and all who have an opinion on the matter. Even better if you've been through the same situation. Im considering moving to Texas from Washington and purchasing my first duplex and house hacking. I graduate college in near future and I'm a veteran, so I plan to use my VA loan to finance the purchase. I have a long-time girlfriend that I wish to move with and live with. I'm perfectly happy with my relationship but I'm absolutely NOT considering marriage at this time, or anytime within the next 5 years. I want this property to be 100% my own. How would you suggest fairly splitting the bills with a partner who is also technically a roommate? We both make about the same salary annually. 50/50 everything? Should I let her pay some variation of HOA, property tax, mortgage, insurance, utilities? What's fair and reasonable, if my goal is retaining 100% equity and ownership of this first property?

If you 2 can agree,, I would have her sign a month to month roommate lease agreement.

This would permit you to take expenses on the unit as 50% of that unit would be rental and tax deductions would be helpful..  You could charge her whatever you want but any rent you would also claim as income.. I would factor in all the expenses you listed on the property and would think 35 to 40 % of that cost would be fair as her portion. 

Keep all utilities, cable, HOA, in your name only and title of property.

Either you put a ring on this girls finger.. or she'll end up ringing your neck down the road..

There is no fair way of splitting expenses,, your gaining equity on property,,, and have tax write off's she won't.. so keep that in mind.

Personally, I think these peoples advice above is terrible. You seriously expect your girlfriend to sign a lease!?

If things go bad in the relationship, why the heck would you want a lease in place? So you're broken up and forcing her to pay you still? 

I think that is awkward. Make sure the numbers work with you just living there and her not paying you anything. 

I think showing your hand is not a bad thing here. My conversation would be something like this "Hey (your girlfriends name here), I'm really excited for us to move in together to this new duplex I got. Although I technically own it, I still have to pay the mortgage, the taxes, insurance, and when anything needs to be repaired, it will ultimately fall on me, I think it would be fair for you to pay me $X a month (some amount slightly below market) and we should split utilities. Does that sound fair?"

@Alex Johnston Are you leasing her the other side of the duplex or something? If y'all aren't ready to just figure this out together, moving in together is probably going to end up being a bad choice. 

Medium logoJason Hirko MBA, Corridor Funding | [email protected] | (512) 560.7985 | http://www.corridorfunding.com

My first piece of advice is that you should be asking your girlfriend this question, not a bunch of strangers on the internet.

That said, here's how I have structured this in my own life.  (I've been in this situation twice and handled it differently each time, depending on everybody's needs and thought processes at the time.

The first time, his house remained 100% his.  I agreed before moving in that I would have no equity in the property nor any claim to it.  With that, I refused to pay one dime towards his mortgage nor did I pay anything towards utilities.  Instead, I paid for 100% of all other "joint" expenses, such as groceries, car insurance (but not his car payment), dining out, vacations, etc.  This came out to roughly 50/50 most of the time and we did not sweat the details.  

We actually crafted our own "pre-nup" for this that we both signed and agreed to.  When we split up many years later, it was a pretty easy process due to going into the scenario with eyes wide open.  Expectations were set perfectly on both parts way in advance.

The second time, we agreed that I would pay a specific monthly amount which would go towards "my" portion of utilities and groceries.  I agreed that I would have no equity in the house.  All other expenses remain separate - car insurance, health care, clothing, etc.  Anything that needed to be purchased for the house (furniture, repairs, etc) were to be his expense.  We take turns paying for eating out and anything else we do together.  

Again, I signed a document agreeing that I would have no equity in the house.  (It was my idea both times, by the way).

Sit down, talk things through with your girlfriend BEFORE you move in together.  It's not romantic and it's not fun and there may be some hurt feelings on both sides, but in my opinion, hammering out these kinds of things is absolutely crucial before you make that kind of commitment.  And if you can't resolve this topic, then the topic actually ends up taking care of itself.  You will both find out where your limits are if/when ultimatums get issued.

Medium cluebussol logo3inLinda Weygant CPA, Clue Business Services, Inc. | [email protected] | Podcast Guest on Show #244

is this a relationship that's going somewhere or a business transaction.

From a one point of view.. if you can't afford to keep me, you can't afford me..

BUSINESS wise,, and from that point alone.. to have a significant other person as a roommate on a month to month lease.Makes Perfect sense if the property is in one name only..,, if he didn't have the $$ to buy they would be leasing somewhere else.. this gives all the benefits of having a rental property.. if  it's properly explained.. from a business , financial reason to do a rental lease, keep track of improvement expenses, be able to deduct expenses on house, depreciation, is a the reason you try and stretch a property to maximize it's potential,   if they breakup.. who cares.. no deposit.. what he got to worry about her names on nothing.. she's free to move out anytime she want's..

My daughter purchased a house.. she had the excellent credit ,, he had the cash for down payment.. everything was in her name.. THANK GOD... He left.. couldn't commit,.. all he wanted was the dog... she got that...

Her roommates from then on had leases month to month.. and she made money and sold, and learned a life / business lesson.. 

I'm not your lawyer and this is not legal advice, etc.

IF YOU STAY IN WASHINGTON, WATCH OUT, BRO.

A 2-second google search showed me that Washington state recognizes some sort of nonsense called committed intimate relationships, which means that if you and your girlfriend live together and split expenses, she may have a claim on all your property, even if it is 100% owned by you and even if you do not hold yourselves out as being married.

To avoid this, you will need to enter into a cohabitation agreement with your girlfriend, clearly setting out what is yours and what is hers (for example, all real estate now owned or later acquired). 

I'm not licensed to practice law in Washington state. You need to find someone who is. 

IF YOU MOVE TO TEXAS, things are a lot better. Texas is a community property state, which means that any property you acquire before marriage is your separate property. Your girlfriend wouldn't acquire anything by living with you, paying bills, etc. 

Now, Texas does recognize common-law marriage, but honestly it is extremely rare. To have a common law marriage recognized by a Texas court, you have to (1) agree to be married, (2) live together as husband and wife, and (3) tell everyone ("hold yourselves out") you are married. Here's a good summary of Texas law on common law marriage.

Good luck.

@Alex Johnston From my experience, and having a healthy, happy, and fiscally-respectful relationship, I can say that doing the total opposite of what has been suggested to you here is what worked for me.

What @Charles said is spot-on. I would never. EVER. ask my woman sign a lease or "pay me rent," that's probably the mindset behind why 50% of marriages/relationships fail and why money is such an issue in so many marriages. What worked for me is to absolutely not make it about the house, or any bills specifically at all. The fact is, you guys share a life together. That life costs you $X per month. What would you both like her (and your!) contribution to be toward your shared life costs? That's the end of it.

As soon as you make it about specific things, you're headed for trouble, and it'll often cause tension. Instead, figure out what your life together costs you both, and figure out what both of your respective contributions to that life together should be. If your life together costs you $2000/month, maybe she pays for 50% of that - but she's not paying for anything specific, it's simply her contribution toward your life together, and you do the same. 

As soon as you make it about specific things, I think that's a recipe for disaster. So, don't split bills, don't split HOA, don't split any item in particular - simply total up how much your life together costs, and you both contribute toward that. The house is in your name, there's no more discussion to be had about who's responsible for those bills.

And for the love of god, if you care at all about the long-term health of your relationship with this person, do not have her sign a lease. You're not married, she probably has no claim to anything anyway, so quit worrying about it. Once you get married, there's no sense worrying either since you don't have a choice about it! :)

Cheers mate, good luck to you, hope a little different perspective helped. 

Thank you everyone for your responses. I'll try to clear this thing up: My girlfriend and I both want to relocate to Texas. She is not interested in purchasing a home or real estate investing at this time what-so-ever, she wants to rent and remain free of that type of financial commitment for now.

 I on the other hand, am interested in purchasing my first property as an investment. I want to purchase a duplex, live in one unit and rent the remaining unit. That being said, we both want to live in the same unit no matter what we do. We both make the same amount of money at our jobs. Im interested in buying, she's not ready to buy yet. She wants to remain a renter for foreseeable future. 

I'm posting this to see how others would structure the expenses of this type of living arrangement. Also just to note, the idea of marriage is a non issue. We do not want to get married for the foreseeable future. Also the trust factor is a non issue. We trust each other just fine. 

The main issue is, that buying real estate is my goal and I'm ready to follow through with it, but this is not her goal and she does not want to be financially tied to the property...yet we wish to live together. I hope this clears things up. I'm simply looking for suggestions on structuring the expenses and who pays what, that's fair to both of us given the circumstances. Thank you again for your constructive thoughts on the subject, I do see a few helpful suggestions that breakdown different ways to structure expenses. This is in no way some attempt to be greedy and retain all equity for myself while having my girlfriend foot the bill. We are a young couple that wish to live together but my own real estate goals are not her goals. I'm simply trying to navigate the reality of the circumstances. If you have any further constructive thoughts please feel free to leave a comment.

You pay all the expenses of the home, ask her to buy groceries, thats my suggestion. Is the question whether you would replace her with a roommate? If thats the case, you can't afford to buy.

Ronald Rohde JD, Ronald Rohde Law | [email protected] | http://www.ronaldrohdelaw.com

This is honestly more of a relationship question than a real estate question. If I were in your situation, I wouldn't charge her rent or ask for her to pay half the mortgage, but I'd probably ask her to pay half the living expenses (food and utilities mainly). But it's all negotiable. :)

@Linda Weygant I think the point of me reaching out to our BP community, "strangers on the internet", is to gain some perspective from those experienced in real estate investing while also dealing with real life issues along the way, as I'm currently experiencing. Surely there are plenty of investors that have had to navigate similar experiences themselves. Thanks for sharing your experiences with me. 

I think the easy solution is that you split the bills down the middle, all rental income is yours, all rental expenses are yours as well. If, at some point she is interested in investing, and you are still together, she can be more involved. Right now, keep your accounts and money separate and treat it as if it weren't a duplex but two separate houses.

Jason DiClemente, AIS Properties LLC | [email protected] | (267) 520‑0454

Being in a similar position myself, I agree with @Ronald Rohde and @Drew Shirley .

Have her responsible for groceries and maybe one or two of your basic utilities at most. Otherwise you may find yourself buying your own groceries and enjoying dinner by yourself. Lol

@Alex Johnston ,

Check your state laws, you're probably worrying for nothing. In VA, any real estate acquired before married isn't considered a marital assets. If the house is in your name, whether your girlfriend or a random stranger lives with you, neither has any rights to your legal assets.

If I were in your shoes, just make sure everything is in your name-- cable/electric/utilities/etc, and have her pay groceries .   Just make sure you do the ethical thing and tell her, that she isn't a part of it, and it's your asset.     As long as you're upfront and honest, there's nothing wrong with it.

Very interesting things to consider here folks, thank you all for the input!

My experience was putting it all in his name. I paid expenses of groceries, he paid bills tied to the address. Recreation we did our own thing paying as things came up. However, I took a pay cut when we moved and in general the move was for him. When we moved for me i bought and footed the house bill. I would ask her, whether it is a formal rental agreement she prefers. Not sure how i would have felt about that. We did learn from friends that the house after you split can get messy so kudos to you for planning.
Originally posted by @Alex Johnston :

Very interesting things to consider here folks, thank you all for the input!

Hey, I am just a married old guy.  But here is my two cents.

IF she is financially able, ie if she was a student, or a single mom I would have a different answer.  But generally if she was living on her ow, she would have rent of her own to pay.  Say market rent is $1,500 (no idea what it would be in your area). I might ask for $1,000/month to help defray living expenses and possibly utilities, and then I would likely split groceries, or what ever.

My point is she shouldnt get off completely free on rent, and you shouldnt be making money on a GF.  A nice well below market sum of cash each month and cal it a day, and you both win.

Honestly, I would think twice about moving in with someone I wasnt married to unless you are all but certain you are getting married.  Because I can tell you from experience, getting out of a live in situation is almost always a bad thing.

@Alex Johnston , If you allow someone to contribute to the mortgage/taxes/insurance then you are potentially creating an equity position for them which may allow them to have a claim against you in the future.  You also need to understand how your local laws impact your rights as some jurisdictions have common law marriage.

@Jason Gines

This is interesting.... So are you saying that if I own a property and I take on a roommate and charge them rent to live inside the property, then I turn around and use that rent to contribute to the mortgage payment, they have claim to my equity because their rent was used to help pay down the mortgage? 

 I'm trying to better understand what is special about this situation that could possibly create an equity position and then wouldn't that be the case in any and all other owner-roommate or owner-renter situations? Theres got to be something I'm not understanding here, because this seems problematic.

@Alex Johnston , you are likely receiving a mortgage bill every month from your lender which includes principal/interest/escrow.  If someone contributes to that bill, they are arguably contributing to the principal payments (equity) in the property.  The concern would be that the relationship deteriorates and your partner turns around and says for so and so years she has been contributing $x towards the mortgage payments and therefore has $x amount equity in the property.  If you enter into a legal contract such as a lease with someone then that isn't the same situation, but your original post specifically stated, "50/50 everything? Should I let her pay some variation of HOA, property tax, mortgage, insurance, utilities?"

@Jason Gines  

Ah okay, gotcha... The difference is the official lease agreement. So in other words, if there's no contract, there's definitely risk? Yikes.