On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Passaic County, Docket No. C-62-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 9, 2008
Before Judges Wefing, Parker and Yannotti.
Defendants Ignacio Sanchez and Andres Sanchez appeal from an order entered by Judge Robert J. Passero on February 5, 2008, which declared, among other things, that plaintiff Maria Romero and defendant Ignacio Sanchez have equal ownership interests in certain real property in Paterson, New Jersey. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
On May 9, 2007, plaintiff filed a verified complaint seeking a declaration that she is the sole owner of the property at 1004 East 26th Street. Plaintiff alternatively requested that the court order the sale of the property and distribution of any profits from the sale in accordance with the parties' respective ownership interests.*fn1 Judge Passero conducted a bench trial in the matter on January 8 and 9, 2008.
At the trial, plaintiff testified that she and Andres had a relationship that began in 1989. Two children were born of that relationship. In 1998, plaintiff and Andres decided to purchase a home. Andres located the property, which consists of a one-family residence with an unfinished basement and attic. Because plaintiff was not earning much money at the time and Andres was not in the United States legally, they approached Andres' father, defendant Ignacio Sanchez, and asked for his assistance in obtaining a mortgage. He agreed.
The purchase price for the property was $79,500. According to plaintiff, the couple used $25,000 that Andres had in a bank account, and $8,000 or $9,000 that they had in a joint account, for the down payment. Plaintiff testified that Ignacio did not contribute any of his own money toward the purchase price. Even so, title to the property was placed in his name. The closing took place on October 16, 1998.
After the closing, Andres finished the basement and made certain improvements to the exterior of the home. The attic was rented to plaintiff's sister and her husband. They remained in the premises for seven or eight months. Ignacio rented the basement. He resided there until January 2001.
Plaintiff testified that a bank account had been opened in Ignacio's name. Plaintiff and Andres deposited monies into that account, and from October 1998 to January 2001, the mortgage and other expenses for the home were paid with monies in that account.
In January 2001, Andres returned to El Salvador in accordance with an agreement that he had worked out with immigration officials. Andres intended to return to the United States when he could do so legally. Plaintiff said the parties agreed that, when Andres returned to the United States, Ignacio would transfer title to the property to plaintiff and Andres.
Plaintiff further testified that, while Andres was in El Salvador, she operated a day care business in the house. She paid the mortgage and all of the expenses of the property. She also provided money to Andres. Andres remained in El Salvador for six years. While there, Andres fathered five additional children with three different women. Andres returned to the United States in 2007. Ignacio refused to transfer title to the property to plaintiff and Andres. Instead, as noted previously, Ignacio sought to evict plaintiff from the property.
Andres also testified. He said that he learned that the property was for sale when he was doing some work on the house. Andres informed his father about the property. According to Andres, Ignacio made the down payment of $25,000 and also paid $8,000 in closing costs. Andres said that there was no agreement that plaintiff would become owner of the house at some time in the future. Andres asserted that he gave his father $800 per month in rent. He said that, while Ignacio was living in the house, Ignacio paid the mortgage.
Andres further testified that he left the United States in January 2001. He stated that, at the time, it was agreed that plaintiff would remain in the house with the two children and she would pay the mortgage and other expenses as rent. Andres ...