Joint tenants share the right to use property


May 21, 2000|By JONATHAN A. AZRAEL

Dear Mr. Azrael:

When joint tenants of a property disagree, what rights does a joint tenant have regarding the property?

Does the joint tenant have use of the entire property? Can one party deny access to any part of the property, or buildings on the property, to the other? Can one party destroy or vandalize the property? Does one party have any rights as to how the other party uses the property?

If one joint tenant has had the burden of paying for all the expenses and maintenance of the property (mortgage, taxes, home owner's insurance, utilities, repairs, etc.), is there any way to get the other joint tenant off the deed?

Sheila Romero, Taneytown

Dear Ms. Romero:

Your question about joint tenants raises many interesting legal issues.

Joint tenants own property together. Each tenant has an equal right to possession, use and enjoyment of the property. When one tenant deprives the other of these equal rights, the victim can protect his or her interest by legal means through the courts.

To answer your specific questions:

Each joint tenant has the right to use the entire property. Neither tenant can lawfully deny access to any part of the land or buildings comprising the property.

A joint tenant cannot destroy or vandalize the property, since these destructive acts damage the interest of the other tenant. Joint tenants each have an equal right to use the property for lawful purposes, and can't be unreasonably restricted by the other.

Ordinarily, a joint tenant who pays the mortgage, taxes, insurance and necessary repairs of a property is entitled to contribution from the other for these expenses. However, if the joint tenant who pays these expenses excludes the other from using the property, the payments made by the one in possession should be credited by the excluded ("ousted") owner for loss of use and enjoyment of the property.

Joint tenants are not partners. The relationship of joint tenants does not authorize one to act for the other.

In a situation where joint tenants can't agree on matters relating to the property, either has the right to ask a court to order a sale of the entire property, with a division of the proceeds of sale in accordance with their respective rights. Except for this type of court-ordered "partition" sale, there is no legal way to force a joint tenant to surrender or forfeit his or her title to a property.

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