Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gift of Lake-Development Property Turns into Financial Hassle

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gift of Lake-Development Property Turns into Financial Hassle

Article excerpt

Q: About six years ago, I was working for a couple who moved out of the area. Before they left, they gave me a small lot in a lake development. We paid the assessments on the property for three years, but then my husband and I had some financial problems and stopped paying the assessments.

I wrote to the lake people to explain that we couldn't afford to pay the assessments and said we wanted to deed the lot over to them. I never got a reply. So I stopped paying the assessments and taxes on the property.

Now, the lake people are harassing me to pay the back assessments. I've been trying to sell the lot and may have a buyer, but the lake people don't want to wait until the weather is better and the prospective buyer looks at the property. I'm not working, but my husband is. I have two questions: Can the lake people garnish my husband's wages? Can I deed this lot back over to them? A: It certainly looks as if this property was a gift horse that should have been looked in the mouth before being accepted. Land that has been developed in some way is often subject to continuing fees or assessments, usually for upkeep of those parts of the development that are owned in common. When you accepted ownership of the lot, you may have signed something agreeing to be responsible for the assessments, or they may have been provided for in the deed. The question of whether your husband can be held liable depends on whether he is the owner of the land or otherwise agreed to be liable. If he isn't an owner and didn't agree to be liable for the fees, it would probably be difficult for the development trustees to hold him liable. But even if he can be held liable, his wages wouldn't be garnished unless the trustees sued him and obtained a judgment. I don't believe you can deed the lot back to the development without the consent of the trustees. It's a basic principle that you can't be forced to accept a gift. By deeding the lot back to the trustees without compensation, you would be making a gift, and the trustees wouldn't have to accept it if they didn't want to. …

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