The Massachusetts Court of Appeals is expected to hear a case in the coming weeks that could change life as we know it for many people who have lived together for years as an unmarried couple.
The question is, if only one person has their name on the deed, can they just evict the other person whenever they feel like it, or does there have to be a court hearing first to determine who should go?
The case involves a wealthy man named Sumner Slavin who sued his former love partner, Nannette Lewis, to force her out of the Brookline home where they had lived together for eight years.
When the relationship escalated, Slavin tried to throw Lewis out on the street by going to court and accusing Lewis of trespassing on his property. As an intruder, Lewis would have no rights and would have to leave the house immediately, without the kind of due process people get when they are married or tenants.
Lewis balked at Slavin’s lawsuit and filed her own lawsuit against him, arguing that she was not a trespasser, was a legal long-term occupant, and had an equitable interest in the house. She was directly involved in the purchase of the property with Slavin, as a business and love partner. Slavin paid for the house, but Lewis designed and renovated it, adding substantial value to the property.
Before you assume that Lewis is some sort of gold digger, you should know that she’s a wealthy woman in her own right, with a reputation as a world-class interior designer for clients such as Bob Kraft. Lewis also had a long history of buying, gutting, designing and rebuilding high-end properties with another business partner before Slavin persuaded her to go into business with him instead.
After renovations to the property she shared with Slavin were completed, they moved into the house together and used it as their primary residence. Both referred to the house as “our property”.
The couple also bought and renovated other properties together, with Slavin paying for the house and Lewis carrying out all the renovations. They quickly got engaged and planned to get married.
When Slavin declared the relationship over, he sued to force Lewis out, claiming she was a “mere guest” and an intruder, who should immediately leave just because he wanted her. so.
A judge refused to order Lewis off and the case quickly went to appeal.
The Court of Appeal must now decide whether Slavin has the right to decide for himself that Lewis is a trespasser who must leave the house at his request or whether Lewis is entitled to a due process hearing where a judge, not Slavin , determines its legal status. .
Typically, when a landlord wants an occupier to leave, they must file a summary conviction case in housing court, but cases in housing court take time and Slavin wanted Lewis out quickly. Calling her an intruder would allow her to circumvent the requirements of the summary trial law and get Lewis out quickly.
Forcing someone out of a house they have lived in for years, especially when they have a vested interest in the property, is wrong. This is why the synthesis process is so important. It ensures that people have a meaningful hearing before a judge, so that their rights can be determined, before they become homeless.
Whether someone has rights depends on whether they are considered an “occupier” or an intruder. An occupier has rights, an intruder does not. The courts have never ruled that an owner can unilaterally determine which tag applies.
The court’s decision will have a huge impact on society, as many people live together as unmarried couples in a single-owned house. The consequences are particularly significant for women who are financially dependent on their non-marital partners for their housing needs.
If a very wealthy woman can be treated like an intruder at the whim of her boyfriend, what chance does a woman of modest means have of avoiding homelessness with a simple wave of the hand of her loving partner when he finds a new girlfriend or acts in a fit of anger or drunken rage?
If Slavin wins, a man could just call the police and report his partner for trespassing. As long as only the man’s name is on the deed, the police can forcibly evict and even arrest the woman, on her order, leaving her destitute on the street.
And you wonder why women still need the Equal Rights Amendment.