Posted by familylaw on 30th July 2020

A complex unmarried case where Susan found herself vulnerable as a non-owner living in a property in Austria belonging to her former partner in a foreign jurisdiction and running a business from it, which was her only means of support.

“About three years into our relationship my partner and I started talking about getting a place together – not just a home but something that would enable us to change our lifestyle. We found the ideal guesthouse in Austria and put in an offer – which is legally binding there. We paid the deposit and put our respective houses on the market, but then the 2008 crash happened. The bank pulled the mortgage and we couldn’t sell our houses. My partner managed to secure a bridging loan and small mortgage, but I was unable to put any money in. The guesthouse was in his name, but the mortgage was in our joint names.

At the beginning it was our intention to have a family and use the guesthouse to make our living. My partner actually prepared a statement saying we had 50/50 equity in the house (after the loan etc was paid back) but I was too idealistic, too naïve, and wouldn’t sign it. My house sold and I gave the equity to my partner. In order to do building work in Austria you have to live there so I relocated. So, I’d given up my job, handed over the equity from my house sale, invested in numerous flights and then moved to Austria. At this point it all started to unravel. I asked for my name to be added to the land register, but the solicitor said no. My partner and I started to have disagreements about works on the house and he’d say things like: ‘It’s my house’. Our accountant told me I had no legal standing. Then my partner changed the mortgage into his name only.

I found myself in a precarious position and gave him an ultimatum – a year to think again. But we broke up. He cancelled listings on booking websites, reported my living in the house to the police threatening criminal proceedings, and started eviction proceedings in Austria. It seemed an unwinnable case. Local lawyers said I had no chance so I contacted three lawyers in England. David Cobern was the only one who answered. He dealt efficiently with the foreign jurisdiction and lawyers and the business element to my case, as well as the property.

Emotionally it was hard gathering evidence and writing a statement, I had to relive everything from the happier times to the difficult times. I experienced such a sense of loss. But I did have evidence – he’d left some things at the house, including a laptop and on it, the statement he’d prepared about 50/50 equity. I had kept most of the emails from him so I had plenty of evidence of his thoughts and feelings. He contradicted himself, and there was an unmistakable nastiness in his actions; cancelling our listings, trying to get me evicted, issuing criminal proceedings and in his emails. He also upped the stakes by issuing possession proceedings there, meaning David had to engage with an Austrian lawyer to have those proceedings stayed.

A relation of mine close to the judicial sector told me that the judge would find a way of finding in favour of someone who came across as honest and genuine, as I was being. In court, David’s advice was not to be intimidated – the opposing barrister was known as being something of a bulldog, but he couldn’t trip me up or discredit me.

Two weeks’ later, our summing up call with the judge was harrowing, for the first 45 minutes it sounded like everything was going my partner’s way. And then she said it; she said she felt the claimant, me, was being honest. Her judgement was that he would have to sell the house to me, for a low price, and with costs against him.

It took almost five years from start to finish. David was brilliant, he was the only one prepared to take on my case. I often go over everything and I’m so very grateful for everything he did and how he was so patient with me at times when I just couldn’t face it.

Susan’s tips

  • Be realistic even when you’re in love – I trusted my partner too much
  • Make sure that any joint agreement involving property is formalised
  • Be honest. I was totally honest and it worked in my favour

What now?

  • Six months after we went to court the house was put into my name, I own it outright. I have planning permission to add another apartment and the business has gone from strength to strength
  • I have free time to enjoy the beautiful area I live in
  • Emotionally life hasn’t turned out as I’d planned, but I can now look forward and even contemplate a new relationship sometime. But I’ll never put myself in that position again.

Need some advice? Get in touch today

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