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What are the legal considerations of moving in together?

Cohabitating with a significant other can have significant legal implications

If you’re considering renting an apartment with your partner, there are several legal steps to consider before getting started. Additionally, there are things you can do to prepare yourself for the possibility of a future separation.

Should the renter of the property notify the landlord?

Yes. Lease agreements are binding legal contracts between the property owner and the tenant who originally signed the agreement. In other words, the person moving in has no rights or obligations with regard to the property, and is generally not legally bound in any way—for better or worse.

Adding your partner to the lease agreement not only works to include them within the purview of the tenants’ rights afforded by state law, but also holds them equally liable for rent and damages that may occur in the future.

If your partner is moving into your home and you are the owner, it may not be necessary to notify the mortgage company, unless you have decided to add your partner to the deed of the home. In that event, be especially certain to notify the mortgage company, because many promissory notes contain "acceleration clauses" that trigger in the event of ownership transfer—which includes adding an owner to the deed.

What about insurance?

Adding your partner to the renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy is essential, unless you plan on footing the bill in the event of a major accident, injury, or theft. A renter’s insurance policy protects against damage and property theft that occurs through no fault of the renter or landlord. As your partner begins to move his or her belongings into the unit, the value of its contents will undoubtedly increase—making it vital to include your partner on the policy.

The same holds true for a homeowners’ insurance policy, which protects against damage to the exterior or interior of the home. In the event of a fire or extreme weather event, the policy will cover the value of the home and its contents, which will likely increase once the second resident moves in.

Am I on the hook for the rent/mortgage if my partner moves out?

This will depend on how the lease agreement or promissory note is drafted, and whether it was amended to include your partner once he or she moved in. If no changes were made to the agreement, it will stand as-is and you will resume responsibility as the sole payor.

However, if your partner’s name was added to the lease agreement or promissory note, they are still legally responsible for payment of the rent or mortgage payment each month—and a default will harm the creditworthiness of both individuals, even if one has moved out.

Another issue to consider if you are a homeowner is that your partner (upon breakup) may make a claim for partial equity in your property, particularly if they lived there for a long time and made a substantial contribution toward the mortgage balance. These claims are not always successful, but it is something to consider if you are planning to split living expenses upon cohabitation.

If we make purchases together during the relationship, how are these divided in the event of breakup?

For unmarried couples, there are no legal protections available for the equitable division of property acquired during the relationship. Absent a joint ownership agreement or some other evidence of who owns what, cohabitants are essentially left to decide these issues on their own.

Cohabitation agreements

A good way to address these issues is with a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement is a practical option for unmarried couples looking to keep things simple in the event of a breakup. A thorough and effective cohabitation agreement will address all issues pertaining to the relationship, including property division, payment of living expenses, household responsibilities, and who will take possession of any pets upon breakup.

The agreement is a binding contract between the two partners, and is legally enforceable in the event of later disagreement. To ensure enforceability, the contract should be signed before a notary and kept with all other important documents.

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