My brother and I are living with our grandmother. Since there are repairs to be made in our grandmother’s house, we undertook to go on with the renovations. Our grandmother, who owns the title to the house, did not spend anything for the renovations. Recently, our grandmother decided to sell the house. Should our grandmother push through with the sale, can we be reimbursed of our expenses despite the fact that we stayed in the house of our grandmother?
Article 428 of the New Civil Code (NCC) provides that the owner has the right to dispose of a thing, without other limitations than those established by law. The law gives the owner of a thing, as a matter of right, the right to exclude any person from the enjoyment and disposal of his properties.
As an attribute to ownership, the owner of a thing has the following rights:
a) The right to enjoy the fruits (jus fruendi);
b) The right to dispose (jus disponendi); and
c) The right to recover (jus vindicandi).
The right to the enjoyment of the properties carries with it the right to possess (jus possidendi), use (jus utendi) and to make use of the fruits (jus fruendi) of the said property. Likewise, the right to dispose includes the right to alienate, to consume and even abuse (jus abutendi) the property.
You mentioned in your query that the title to the property in question belongs to your grandmother and that her ownership is evidenced by a Certificate of Title. For all intents and purposes, she can sell her house to the exclusion of any other person including you and your brother, regardless of whether you spent for the renovation of her house, which had been your home for so long. Legally speaking, she has all the right to do anything with her house for as long as the act is within the bounds of law and it will not prejudice somebody’s rights.
The right of your grandmother, however, to sell the property which is the subject matter of your query is not without prejudice to you and your brother’s right to be reimbursed of the expenses that you incurred in renovating the house, provided that the improvements or renovations that you introduced improved the state of your grandmother’s house. The law also protects you and your brother who are presumed to have spent in good faith for the renovation of the house.
Your grandmother cannot make use of her right to sell the house in such a manner that she will injure your right to be reimbursed of the expenses you used for the renovation of the house. As a matter of fact, if the improvements you introduced to the house have added to the value of the property, all the more that you should be reimbursed because the renovations inured to the benefit of your grandmother. You and your brother’s act of spending for the renovations may be voluntary, however, your grandmother has benefited from the same; hence, the latter has the obligation to compensate you and your brother. This is in accordance with the principle in law that no one shall be unjustly enriched or benefited at the expense of another (Article 2142, NCC).
You and your brother can make use of your rights as granted for by law to be reimbursed of your expenses in the same vein that your grandmother has the obligation to compensate you of the said expenses. This is in concurrence with Article 19 of the NCC, which provides: “Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.”
However, before going further with whatever actions you would like to take to enforce your right, we advise you to settle the matter with your grandm other and work things out. Try to amicably settle your issues to avoid a long and tedious litigation.
We hope that we were able to address your concern. Please be reminded that the above legal opinion is solely based on our appreciation of the problem that you have stated. The opinion may vary when other facts are included or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org