Ms. Lank: I own a house in the city in an area that is older but still has mainly single-family dwellings. Years ago, the house was a duplex, but walls were removed to make it a single-family unit. The address still shows the two numbers as if it were still a duplex.
I want to restore it to a duplex. I would like to stay in it but would need rental income to do so. However, I was informed that the city will not allow the restoration because of the single-family nature of the neighborhood. And if I had to sell, potential buyers would be interested only if it could be changed back to a duplex, so I am in a bind. Do I have any recourse? -- J. D.
Answer: Maybe there's some chance to grandfather an exception to the zoning. Try consulting a lawyer, preferably one who specializes in real estate. Any details you know about when it was a two-family dwelling should help.
About Tenants Insurance
Ms. Lank: I have a question about renters insurance. I'm a senior citizen who has always had homeowners or renters insurance as required. Right now, I live in a nearly new apartment.
We have state-of-the-art fire systems with smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and a sprinkler system in every apartment in our building. Of course, I know my actual building is covered by the owner's insurance, but I have wondered whether I really need renters insurance for my individual apartment.
I pay about $145 per year for it, but I don't have a family or anybody who comes over who might get hurt, and there's no fear of being robbed. My only concern would be damage from a possible earthquake. Of course, my insurance company would tell me that I need renters insurance, because that's what those companies do, but I just wonder what a neutral third party such as yourself thinks. -- M. T.
Answer: I don't know your financial situation and how much that $145 a year means to you, but tenant insurance is a prudent investment. It covers your furniture and other personal belongings, which are not included in the landlord's insurance.
Dear Edith: I have six children, all of whom are in their 50s. I have two pieces of property -- both of which have considerable value. One is a three-bedroom apartment in a waterfront condominium. The other is a 1915 house in a historic neighborhood where the average minimum price is somewhat lower.
My late husband and I always assumed anything we had would be divided equally among our six children, and that any of the children who desire one property could buy out the others.
This year, the youngest two, the twins, proposed that they would take the 1915 house and the other four could have the condominium as an equal exchange. They plan to bring the house up to code, rent it out to visitors and probably break even, as well as use the house for their families during part of the year.
The other four plan to sell the condominium as is, so they will not have any expense except the selling fees.
My main concern is whether this is equitable. I am 86 years old. I want the twins to have the house because I want to keep it in the family as long as I am alive (which is not for long, obviously!), and I will pay the usual rental fee when I use it.
How does this sound to you? It is hard for me to be objective. I want them to have the house and keep it in the family, and for it to be a good investment for them. None of the other children have objected to this plan, but I do not want anyone to feel shortchanged.
We are having a family meeting at the end of this month. Is it possible for you to give an opinion before then? -- A. J. H.
Answer: If you're asking about how to write your will, that all sounds more or less fair.
Maybe you're considering giving the properties away now, though. Again, it seems roughly equitable. You should know that if you give the kids your property, they will also take over your cost basis. If they wait to inherit, they will get a new, stepped-up cost basis of the home's value at the time of your death. Discuss whether that matters to them.
And if you're thinking of someday qualifying for Medicaid, remember that real estate you've given away in the preceding three years is still counted as your asset.
You may want to reconsider your estimate of life expectancy, by the way. I, for instance, am already six years older than you.
Contact Edith Lank at www.askedith.com, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.
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