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Rape, Allegations, Landlords, Liability and Joint Title Post-Divorce Potential Pitfalls

Have you ever had a case where the parties deferred the sale of the real property, or they remained on title together after the divorce was over?

If you’ve been following the former Buffalo Bills punter, Matt Araiza’s, gang rape case, there’s a big lesson hidden within it. 

Matt Araiza recently graduated from San Diego State University this past May and he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills to replace their starting punter. What a proud moment!

Until … three days later, the news of a civil lawsuit, accusing him of statutory and gang rape, got out and made its way all over national headline news.

 The Facts of the Case

Here are some of the facts of the case:

 

      Last year, October 2021, Araiza and other college students were renting a house near SDSU’s campus, and they threw a Halloween party.

      A 17-year-old minor, a high school student, attended the party and while there, she claimed there was an instance of statutory rape and an alleged gang rape, with Araiza at the helm.

      The alleged victim has filed a lawsuit against three of the students, including Araiza — and the titled owners of the rental house (the landlords).

 

This is Where the Real Estate Aspect Comes In

You can read the entire filing here, but as for the landlords, the sixth cause of action in the filing alleges that SLJ (the LLC of the title holders) was:

“negligent in its use or maintenance of the Residence, e.g. that SLJ, [...] should have known that Araiza, Leonard, and Ewaliko would do the things alleged above, but failed to take any reasonable steps to make the premises safe. For example, SLJ knew or should have known that the tenants were using the Residence for frequent, raucous parties involving underage drinking, and that they were using these parties to get young women intoxicated and have sex with them, that these same tenants had dangerous and violent propensities, and that these parties were so out of control, and there were so many complaints, that the police had to respond to the Residence on multiple occasions.”

So, what does this have to do with a divorce case?

If title is not severed, liability is still hanging in the balance.

      What if the landlords in this case were divorced, but both remained on joint title to the property?

      What if the party who was not awarded the house wasn’t aware that their ex-spouse’s homeowners insurance had lapsed?

      What if there wasn’t an umbrella policy and the Plaintiff was awarded a judgment that cripples the parties financially?

At the very least, both parties would have to spend significant time and money to fight this in court. At the worst, this lawsuit could financially and psychologically ruin them.

Holding title to real property comes with liability. Maybe it’s not a gang rape claim at a party thrown by the tenants, but it could be a tree that fell on the neighbor’s land, or the injury of a child running on wet cement by the pool. The scenarios are endless.

 Owners Had No Way Of Knowing

One thing we know for sure: The owners of the house Matt Araiza was renting didn’t think they’d ever find themselves tangled up in such a messy, high-profile lawsuit.

So when you have a case where the property is not sold and title is held jointly, I suggest ensuring the parties record a new deed — or at the very least, disclose the risks involved if they do not.

If you need to have further discussion about this, or any other issues related to owning property with an ex-spouse please feel free to reach out.