For 19 years, Russ and Leighanne Bradley and their four children lived in the upper half of a split-level home they co-owned with Leighanne’s mother, who lived below. In August of 2019, the Bradleys received an eviction notice.
“We had no idea what was going on,” Russ says. “She had threatened to sell the property before, but it always seemed like a bluff. When we got that notice, it seemed like she was serious.”
The Bradleys had co-purchased their home with Leighanne’s mother back in 2000. The Bradleys were on the deed, with a half-interest in the property. In 2005, Leighanne’s mother wanted to refinance and roll the payments in with another mortgage. For financial reasons, the Bradleys agreed it was best for her to apply alone, so they quitclaimed their interest in the property. The parties continued with a verbal co-ownership agreement, and the Bradleys made monthly mortgage payments.
In 2019, the relationship began to deteriorate. The children visited their grandmother, but the adults were no longer speaking. Then Leighanne’s mother found a buyer for the house and served the eviction notice. The Bradleys taped the mortgage payment to her door, but she wouldn’t take it.
“We were so scared of what would happen,” says Russ. “We started scrambling find a place to live in two weeks. We talked about trying to make a hotel work. We had no place to go, zero options.”
The Bradleys looked into hiring a lawyer but couldn’t afford any of them. Then Russ called Legal Aid. He received a call back from Law Schuelke, a staff attorney in the housing unit. Schuelke recognized the case as one that fell outside a typical landlord-tenant case.
“Those guys know so much more than we do. They weren’t about working the system. They were about making it fair.”
“At our first meeting, Law said chances were slim we’d have to move out in two weeks,” says Russ. “He thought we had a case for home ownership. He would help us deal with the eviction, and then turn us over to Chase (Staff Attorney Chase Hamilton, in Legal Aid’s Home Ownership unit) to help with the next part.”
Schuelke was able to get a stay on the eviction and get it expunged. The Bradleys had been on the property documentation for almost six years before the refinance, and Hamilton thought they had a solid claim as constructive co-owners. He brought a new legal matter on the basis of constructive trust.
The parties entered negotiation through their attorneys. There was clearly no chance of reconciling the relationship, and the parties couldn’t continue living on top of each other. Selling the property was the clear option, and the parties agreed that all net proceeds would go into escrow with Hennepin County District Court. No one would see any money until they worked out how to split it fairly.
“Legal Aid was with us every step of the way, explaining everything, and telling us what to expect,” says Russ.” Those guys know so much more than we do. They weren’t about working the system. They were about making it fair.
The Bradleys started out facing an eviction, with almost 20 years of co-ownership and nothing to show for it. They ended up with an even split of the equity, which fell in line with the agreement the parties had held all along. That amount was more than twice what the opposing party offered in beginning negotiations.
“Legal Aid also made sure the eviction was expunged, so we have a clean housing record,” Russ says. “They will fight for justice. It’s a cheesy thing to say, but that’s exactly what it is. They will fight for your rights.”