Dear Miriam,

I have a son who lives in my original family home, which I spent money doing up. I live in my own, separate, house. The problem is, he has never paid me a penny to live in the house, either to rent, or buy it out, with his girlfriend, who is also living there. He has paid nothing and is 12 years living there. They have good jobs.

I own this house. Can you suggest how I will go about getting my son to rent or buy the house from me?

Regular Reader

Dear Regular Reader,

Thanks for getting in touch. I suppose like many conundrums in life, this comes down to communication, and hopefully a solution can be found that suits you both.

As you say in your letter, this is your house, and so you are free to do as you wish with it; whether that is renting or selling it. Perhaps down the line, this house would be a part of your son’s/family’s inheritance if you choose to hold onto it; but that is the future, and not a foregone conclusion either.

Often in families, we can make certain assumptions or take things for granted; but that can lead to resentment if left to linger. I suspect this might be the case now. I know nothing about your financial situation, but I imagine that any income from the rent/sale of the property would be very welcome in your later years. You mention that your son and his partner have good jobs, so it does not seem to be a situation where they could not afford to pay rent or buy the property.

So, let’s try to nip this situation in the bud and think about how to have this much-needed conversation; but as parent and child, rather than adversaries.

Mulling over

My advice is to think about what you want, first and foremost. Would it make most sense for you to rent or to sell the house?

You should get a rough idea of its market value from property websites or a chat with a local auctioneer. Is it your hope that your son rents/buys the property? If he balks at this idea, would you be open to renting/selling to a third party and the prospect of a ‘stranger’ living in your former home?

My advice is to think about what you want, first and foremost. Would it make most sense for you to rent or to sell the house?

There is no right or wrong answer. These are just a few questions to consider so that you are clear where you are coming from before sitting down to chat to your son.

It’s worth pointing out that while you have been mulling over the situation for some time, it may not have even occurred to your son that there is any problem. Therefore, it might be worth flagging in advance that you would like to have a chat with him about the house. Pick a time that suits you both when you can sit down without any pressure.

While it might be tempting to dwell on the fact that he has lived there rent-free for more than a decade, it might be better to focus on the future rather than getting bogged down in the past.

Explain calmly that the time has come to make a decision about the house from a financial point of view, and that it would be your preference to give him and his partner ‘first dibs’ on it. Listen to what he has to say and give them time to consider their options too. For instance, is this the ‘forever home’ that they envision or do they still consider it a stop-gap measure? If the latter is the case, can you come to an agreement regarding the rent that works for both of you in the short-term, and discuss the bigger picture after that, e.g. what needs to happen on both sides in order to rent or sell to another party?

I would like to stress that this is an issue that you are absolutely entitled to address. You have been more than generous to your son to date and your needs now are just as important. But the first step is to start the conversation. I wish you the best of luck.