‘Agony uncle, is it okay to accept rent from my partner?’

Ethical and political dilemmas abound these days. Seems like we’re all in need of a New Internationalist perspective. Enter stage: Agony Uncle

Illustration by Emma Peer
Q: A year ago, I was able to put down a deposit on a flat after inheriting some money from a grandparent. I’ve been living here alone. But my boyfriend and I have recently decided to live together, and the simplest thing would be for him to move in here. I trust him, but joint ownership would be a big commitment. He’s insistent that he pay his way, but I don’t feel comfortable charging him rent: this would effectively mean he was paying towards an asset I could sell in the future. What should I do?
Worried of Cambridge

A: Two things preoccupy the modern soul: relationships and property. Just look at popular culture: if we’re not watching ‘Love Island’ or ‘First Dates’, or scrolling through online dating apps, then we’re absorbed in ‘Selling Sunset’, ‘Location, Location, Location’ or ‘Grand Designs’. One particular millennial pastime is looking at online listings for houses that will always remain out of reach: picturing a charmed life amid high ceilings and period fixtures, before returning to the reality of their cramped, multi-occupancy, landlord-owned fixer-upper. And, oh, did we mention: the rent’s going up again. Sorry, it’s the cost of living. Like most things, we can blame neoliberalism for our messed up attachment to both. Atomized individualism, with people reduced to Top Trumps-style statistics about themselves, leads to the impoverished nature of contemporary dating. And a political economy in which the only thing that actually grows is house prices means that property occupies a feverish position in the English mindset. It’s an investment, the future, the nest egg. Anything perceived to threaten its value (see almost every socialist movement to come close to government) is presented as an existential threat. Families are torn apart over inheritance, and relationships can smash on the rocks of future property decisions. You both have valid points of view. Your boyfriend wants to pay his way rather than be a kept man – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But you don’t want to be his de facto landlord – is there anything less romantic?

I try not to be too prescriptive in this column, but there are some concrete solutions out there. You should probably look into drawing up something called a declaration of trust, which would establish some terms and conditions. You could split your monthly payments down the middle, but agree to buy him out should you ever break up – by paying back to him everything he’s put into the mortgage. This would be costly, but the fact that you are currently able to pay the mortgage off by yourself suggests to me you’d be able to afford this.

And you could include a clause that after, say, four or five years, you could revisit the agreement and go for joint ownership if you both want to. This would usually allow him half of the equity that results from any sale, though you’ll of course be entitled to the value of the deposit you put in. Get a lawyer to draw something up. Let him show it to a trusted third party to get another opinion. You’ll work something out.

None of this is exactly an aphrodisiac, is it? But, as I said, questions about property make people in this country go a bit mad, and you don’t know what the future holds, so it’s prudent to have something agreed upon.

Ultimately, though, this decision is as much about the future of your relationship as it is the property. Other things might be swirling beneath the surface – is it that you cherish and will miss the independence of living alone? Is it that you can’t honestly picture the long-term future together that this decision implies? These are all important concerns, not to be bottled up, but it’s not my job to be a relationship counsellor when I know so little about you guys. In fact, in my own life, I’m always putting off hard questions and distracting myself. In fact, look, ‘Grand Designs’ is on. I haven’t seen this one...

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