It's certainly not fair to you. I couldn't agree more. Without written documentation, however, you would certainly have an uphill battle proving that you have an ownership
interest in the property.
First things first: If you are not able to prove that you have an ownership interest in the property, then you would be viewed as no more than a tenant. If you are considered a tenant, then the owner/landlord can terminate your tenancy with 30 days notice. This would mean that if you refused to vacate 30 days after receiving such notice, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against you, and eventually have you kicked out.
Accordingly, it is imperative that you establish your ownership interest. If the owner/landlord tries to evict you in court, then you can defend yourself by arguing that you have what's called a land installment sales contract, which is basically the legal term for rent-to-own. Now, one of the first issues that you'll have to deal with is that real estate contracts
almost always have to be in writing (this requirement is called the "statute of frauds
"). For example, you and I could make an oral deal whereby I will sell you a house for a certain price, and we could even video tape our agreement in front of 50 witnesses, and yet, if I were to later refuse to sell you the house, then you would have no case against me if there is no written contract. A judge wouldn't even look at the video or listen to the witnesses because a real estate deal must almost always be in writing. There is an exception, however, which may apply here. The exception is if the parties have already exchanged money. In your case, you have been paying for the last 20 years. So, if the owner were to argue that the "statute of frauds" prevents you from arguing that you had a contract, then you would argue that you have been paying and that your performance under the oral contract
relieves you of any obligations to produce a written document. The judge should agree, and allow you to present your evidence that you have a land installment sales contract (i.e., rent-to-own contract). This is when you'd have to produce your evidence.
Although it may seem like you have no evidence without anything in writing, that is not entirely true. First, you have your testimony
and the testimony of anybody else who was aware of the oral contract. Second, the fact that you stayed in the house for 20 years and maintained the property and built structures indicates that you believed you had an ownership interest, since regular tenants don't normally stay in a house for that long, nor do they maintain it as their own. There may be other evidence as well, such as if your payments stayed the same over the years rather than increased as the rental market increased. So, you stand a fighting chance if the owner denies your claim and tries to evict you.
Does that answer your question? Please let me know if you need clarification, as I am happy to continue helping you until you are satisfied. Also, your positive feedback is much appreciated. Thank you for using our service!
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