Q: My 85-year-old mother lives alone in a single-family home in Mill Basin, Brooklyn. Her neighbor offered her $20 a month to rent her driveway. After my mother said no, he offered $40, and she felt pressured to say yes. Given the lack of parking in this area, her driveway could be worth at least $100 a month, and my mom, who lives on Social Security, could use the extra income. I think the neighbor is taking advantage of her. What can I do? Nothing is in writing.
A: The deal your mother struck with her neighbor is unenforceable because it’s too vague. It doesn’t state an end date or a means to renew or terminate the agreement. “It’s not recognized as a valid contract,” said Bruce A. Cholst, a real estate lawyer in the Manhattan office of the law firm Anderson Kill.
This gives you an opportunity for a reset. But first you need to find out more about the market. Ask neighbors what they charge. Check Craigslist. Get a sense of how many people are looking to rent driveways.
Discuss the risks and options with your mother, too. Your neighbor wants to rent the space, and your mother wants the income. The neighbor might walk away if you propose doubling the price, and you may not be able to find another renter in the neighborhood. Is your mother O.K. with that risk?
When you’re ready, approach the neighbor. If you are concerned that your mother is at a disadvantage, speak with him on her behalf. Representing her will make it clear that she has an advocate. Mr. Cholst suggested starting the conversation by saying something like, “As we both know, this is a legally unenforceable contract, but we still want to do a deal with you.”
Tell him you’d like to work out a fair and clear arrangement for both parties, one that reflects current market conditions. (If he balks and you want this deal to hold, you could offer two months at the lower rate, as a laurel leaf.) Insist on a written agreement that sets the price, with payments due on the first of the month. Keep the language simple and straightforward. The terms should include a clear end date and a procedure for terminating or renewing the agreement. And to make it clear that your mother has an advocate, have the neighbor send payments to you.