What is co-ownership? : The law of the land

What are the types of co-ownership of land?

If one person owns land or property, he or she is the sole legal owner. If two or more people own land or property they are co-owners. Where there is co-ownership of land, each legal owner simultaneously enjoys the rights and responsibilities of property ownership.

Types of co-ownership

There are two forms of co-ownership in law: joint tenancy and tenancy in common. ‘Tenancy’ in this context is not to be confused with ‘tenancy’ in the context of leases.

Joint tenancy

Under a joint tenancy, the co-owners each own the whole estate. There are two distinct characteristics of a joint tenancy:

  1. The right of survivorship.
  2. There cannot be a joint tenancy unless the ‘four unities’ are present.

The right of survivorship means that under a joint tenancy, no co-owner (‘joint tenant’) can dispose of their interest in the land under their will when they die, because they do not have a divisible share. When a joint tenant dies, the survivor/s automatically inherit the whole of the property. Likewise, one joint tenant cannot sell a ‘half share’ in the property as they do not own a divisible share to sell.

If the property is sold, the co-owners are entitled to an equal share of the sale proceeds – regardless of how much money they have actually put into the property.

The four unities

This is simply what the law requires to show that the co-ownership is a joint tenancy in law. These are:

  • Unity of possession: ie. there is no physical division of the land separating each joint tenant’s share and there must be no restriction on the co-owners use of all the land.
  • Unity of interest: ie. the interests of the co-owners must be identical.
  • Unity of time: the interest of all the owners should have been created at the same time.
  • Unity of title: all the co-owners should have acquired the legal and beneficial interest in the land at the same time through the same way (or by adverse possession, ie. squatting).

Tenancy in common

Where there is a tenancy in common, each tenant in common owns a separate, identifiable share in the property.

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For more information on:

  • What is overreaching?
  • Severing a joint tenancy