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My father promised me and my husband part of his property so we spent $100,000 for us to live here and now
that we want to sell and move my dad doesn’t want to sign over the property for us to sell and move. How can we get our $100,000 plus what we paid in property taxes back?
Asked on September 27, 2019 under Real Estate Law, North Carolina
SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney
Answered 2 years ago | Contributor
You cannot force him to sell you or transfer you the property unless you had a written contract for it: in your state (and most states, for that matter) contracts to convey or transfer land must be in writing to be enforceable.
However, you can sue for some of your money back under the following theories:
1) Promissory estoppel: because he made you a promise upon which you reasonable relied (and upon which he knew and intended you'd rely) to your detriment, the law can enforce that promise, at least to the extent of forcing him to return your money since he did not fulfill his promise.
2) Fraud: he induced you to pay him by misrepresenting his intentions.
You can't get it all back, however: to the extent the money you paid was a reasonable amount for the benefit you received (being able to live there), he can retain that, since to give that back to you would mean that you would have been "unjustly"--or unfairly--enriched by living rent free in someone else's property. So, say that including taxes, you paid $120,000. Say that you lived there (for sake of example) for four years, and the reasonable monthly "rent" for this type and amount of property would have been $1,500 per month, or $18,000 per year, or $72,000 for 4 years. Since you received $72k in value, you can't get it back--but you can seek the other $48k you "overpaid" for what you in fact got.