Let’s Move In Together (And You Can Help Me Pay My Mortgage)

First comes love and then comes ... a frank discussion about the realities of moving in together.

There’s one question that comes up a lot among couples and is bound to be even more commonplace in a hot housing market: What happens when you’re ready to live together, but one (or both) of you already own a home?

It’s natural for a homeowner to want their partner to move in. But is it fair for that partner? And is it healthy to have a landlord-tenant dynamic in your romantic relationship?

The short answer: No, it’s not fair, and that dynamic can be risky. After all, the “rent” being paid by the partner is ultimately subsidizing someone else’s mortgage with no equity being earned, no protections of a lease and the threat of eviction ever-present should things not work out.

With many millennials and even Gen Z cohabitating before marriage, I’ve been asked fairly frequently how to handle moving into a home that one partner owns. In 2019, 12% of millennials were living with an unmarried partner compared to 8% of Gen Xers at the same age bracket in 2003. Although housing prices are soaring and moving in together may be more economical and practical, it’s important to first have a direct conversation about the risks — and sign a few legally binding documents to ensure both parties feel safe.

The fundamental challenge in moving into a partner’s owned home is the power imbalance it creates. The home isn’t “ours,” it’s “theirs.” This means your partner can make unilateral decisions about the house and your living situation. I’ll leave aside all the emotional issues this raises and focus on the practicalities. The key questions you need to think about are: What rights does each party have to the home? What about in the event of a break up? How much “rent” does the non-owner pay? And how will utilities, furnishings and upgrades be handled?