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The Moneyist: I pay rent to my boyfriend and help run his property business. He takes my commissions and won’t discuss marriage. What can I do?

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Dear Quentin,

My boyfriend of 10 years and I became acquainted because I was his tenant. He is 25 years my senior. I agreed to continue to pay rent because he told me that I would get the house when he died. To be fair, I also was not going to be able to move because the rents in my area began to skyrocket, and as a young single mother I wanted to work part-time so that I could care for my (then) young son.

In the years that followed, we started two businesses together using the property that he owns. One was a short-term rental in a unit of the duplex house that we live in, and the other was a theater. Both were very popular. However, I did a lot of unpaid labor to get the businesses started as well as day to day operations. I did make some money managing the rental and received tips from working the bar at the theater, but my boyfriend kept the rest of the money.

‘He began taking part of my commissions without telling me. He also started treating me like an employee and not like a partner.’

At the time, this arrangement was fine because there were discussions that the money on the rental would go to renovating the house, turning it into a single home for us to share. But he quit his day job and lived off the money instead. He then began taking part of my commissions without telling me. He also started treating me like an employee and not like a partner. All of this was very upsetting, and we have had a lot of difficult conversations about his behavior.

Since the pandemic, we have had to close our businesses and he has had to go back to work. I started an apparel company in 2019, but the pandemic has affected that business as well, and so I have been living off of unemployment benefits. I have a congenital heart condition, and I do not feel comfortable looking for work until I have been vaccinated. I have not paid rent since August 2020. I helped get long-term tenants to occupy the short-term rental, as well as labor to prepare the property for their occupancy.

I have begged my boyfriend to sit down with me and look at the numbers. He has never once been willing to show me the mortgage, taxes and insurance payments, nor have we had a real discussion about money. Every time I bring it up, the conversation ends with a promise of something that will happen in the future. However, I no longer think that any of it will happen. Every time I feel we have reached an understanding, he will say or do something that contradicts it, leaving me feeling very confused.

‘He has never once been willing to show me what the mortgage, taxes and insurance payments are monthly nor have a real discussion about money.’

If I had known then what I know now, I never would have not gotten involved with this man, and the two businesses we started together would have never happened. I worry that with the real-estate market the way that it is right now that he will be tempted to sell one or both of his properties without consulting me. Since we don’t have any agreements on paper, I am wondering how I can protect myself from losing out in this arrangement. I have been led to believe that I am making investments with my time and money.

Six months ago, I became very frustrated and made a few spreadsheets: one documenting the rent I have paid over the last 10 years, one for all of the unpaid labor, and another documenting anything I felt he has paid for me (which isn’t much). I sent it to him and explained that I felt he did not value my contributions, and he complained that I had “sent him a bill.” I didn’t think of it like that, but rather as a negotiating tool for what I felt I have invested in the businesses, property, and ultimately our relationship.

We live in Louisiana and while we have never made any formal arrangements, we have been in a committed, monogamous relationship for over a decade. I want to protect myself in the event that this relationship were to end, either through separation or an untimely death (mine or his), but I don’t know what leverage I actually have legally. Any thoughts or advice you have is welcome.

Feeling Exploited

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Dear Exploited,

You are both living in the same house, and working side by side, but you are also living in alternate worlds. Yes, you are in a committed, monogamous relationship, but you are not quite committed to the same things. You are committed to helping him start his businesses, and turning his property into a money-making enterprise, while living there on below-market rent, and dreaming of a future where you marry, and commingle all your financial assets.

He is committed to you helping him to start his businesses, and turning his property into a money-making enterprise, while you live there on below-market rent, and never telling you outright not to dream of a future where you marry and commingle all of your financial assets. He has a girlfriend and an employee who he pays in promises and sweet nothings and commissions until he decides he wants them for himself. It’s a win-win for him.

You are in a committed, monogamous relationship, but you are not quite committed to the same things.

— The Moneyist

This is more a game of cat and mouse than a love affair. If you were partners in business or in life, there would be something on paper. There is nothing on paper. That is not an oversight or something that belongs on a “to do” list. That is entirely by design. When you wrote: “He quit his day job and lived off the money instead,” I thought, ‘Well, of course he did.’ You must judge people not by their dreams or promises, but by their actions.

I don’t believe you are an entirely victim of his financial malfeasance or romantic misdemeanors, and I urge you not to see yourself as one either. It will help you see your part. You knew nothing was committed to paper. You were not an employee or a partner, and he can’t “steal” a commission if you have no legal standing. You say you would never have gotten into a relationship with him if you knew then what you know now. But he only had to obfuscate once to reveal himself.

Your boyfriend sounds more of a lazy scoundrel than sophisticated con man. Your growing impatience was, I suspect, confirmation of what you knew all along. Your doubts grew, but the evidence was there very early on for you to see and act upon. He showed you who he was from the very beginning. Ask yourself why you accepted this. Was it lower rent at a vulnerable time in your life, companionship, romance and/or the promise of financial security?

He can wait you out for another decade, or more. It costs him nothing to do that. He holds all the cards.

He can wait you out for another decade, or more. It costs him nothing to do that. He holds all the cards. Sure, he can feign outrage: “How could you be so crude as to calculate every last red cent? You have reduced our 10 years to these unseemly transactions. I thought I meant more to you than that!” Or: “This is not the right time to pressure me about marriage, especially when you seem so terribly unhappy, and we are in the midst of a pandemic. If you feel this way, why do you stay?”

Here is one way this could shake out: You finally reach your breaking point, perhaps threaten to leave him, his house and his businesses. You finally walk out the door, quietly hoping that he comes to his senses and realizes what he is about to lose. And next? He yet again takes the path of least resistance, shows you who he is for the very last time, and does exactly what he has done for 10 years to move this business partnership and relationship forward: Nothing.

The Moneyist:My wife has homeschooled our son and our best friends’ son since September due to COVID-19. Is it too late to bring up money?

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