What Does it Mean to be Tenants in Common?

The Facts: My friend Mary and I purchased a house together and are named on the deed as tenants-in-common. We each contributed $150,000 to the purchase price, have both lived in the house and have split the carrying costs equally. Recently we had a falling out and I moved out of the house. I want to sell the house and split the proceeds but Mary wants to keep the house.

The Question: Can I force Mary to sell the house now or do I have to wait until she decides she wants to sell?

The Answer: When people who own property as tenants-in-common do not agree with respect to when to sell the property, the party that wants to sell can sue the other owner by commencing a partition action. Since you would be bringing the action, you would be the plaintiff. As such, you must establish what percentage of the property you own and what expenses, if any, you paid in excess of your ownership interest. For example, if you own a 50% share of the property but have paid 75% of the real estate, you have the burden of proving to the court that you should be reimbursed for the extra carrying costs you have paid.

If the court is satisfied that the parties to the action are the owners of the property and that there is no legal basis for prohibiting a sale, the court will order that the property be sold. If the owners’ expenses in connection with the property are proportionate to their ownership interests, the court will direct the net proceeds to be divided in accordance with the ownership interests of the parties. However, if one of the owners demonstrates that she paid more than her share of the carrying costs or contributed more than her share to renovations or repairs to the property, the court will likely order that she be reimbursed from the sale proceeds for the extra expenses that she paid.

This article first appeared in the June 18, 2009 issue of the Times Beacon Newspapers.

Linda M. Toga of The Law Offices of Linda M. Toga, P.C. is an East Setauket, New York attorney with a general law practice focusing on estate planning, real estate, marital planning, small business services and litigation.