Advice for managing property owned by multiple people

Dear Karen,

I own land with my four siblings in equal shares.

There is already disagreement between us as to what to do with the lands.

None of us are farming.

We all want to lease it, save for one of one of my sisters who would like to sell it.

What are our options?

Can we be forced to sell?

Dear Reader,

This situation is quite common. The more people who own property together, the higher the probability of disagreements occurring.

The most common types of co-ownership of land are joint tenancies and tenancies in common.

Spouses/civil partners often hold property as joint tenants, whereas the usual method of ownership of land between siblings is as tenants in common.

It is important to identify how your property is held.

Is it as joint tenants or tenants in common?

The importance of identifying how the property is held relates essentially to survivorship, how each of your respective shares and land can be passed on to the next generation.

In the case of a joint tenancy, the surviving co-owner or co-owners automatically inherit the share of the co-owner that dies.

In the case of a tenancy in common, the co-owner that dies can leave their share to another person under their will, or their next-of-kin on intestacy.

While the shares of tenants in common do not have to be equal (for example, one co-owner could be entitled to a half share and the other two to a quarter each), this does not confirm exclusive right in respect of any part of the co-owned land.

Where co-owners divide the land into individual areas in which each will have the respective right to exclude the others, this amounts to a partition, which brings the co-ownership to an end.

In order to address difficulties in the co-ownership of property, it is often thought best to bring the co-ownership to an end.

This can be achieved as follows:

1.

By a co-owner purchasing the interest of the other co-owners.

2.

By physically dividing the property into portions over which individual co-owners would have exclusive rights.

3.

By sale in lieu of partition.

While the above options may need all of the co-owners to agree to bring the co-ownership to an end, one co-owner can affect a partition or court sale through an application to the courts, without the need for consent or agreement from the other co-owners.

This allows at least one of the individual owners to petition the court to divide the property and force a sale.

Distribution of the net proceeds is then made to the individuals in the shares to which they own the property.

This process is somewhat time consuming and expensive, as most of the owners usually engage their own solicitor.

Naturally, anybody who does not want this matter to proceed may file an objection with the court, but normally, their objection will be overturned, as the other owners have a right to force the sale of the property.

These situations often occur when a family cannot agree on the terms of the sale itself.

In many cases, however, a family is unable to agree or communicate in any fashion that would allow the matter to proceed uncontested, and therefore, the partition proceeding is necessary in order to force the sale on behalf of the uncooperative or disagreeable heirs.

The Petition to Partition proceedings should be viewed as a last resort, when there is basically no co-operation among family members.

All parties must understand that there will be significantly more expense and time delay, and their property may in fact be sold to an unwanted buyer at a lower than anticipated price. Another, less costly option would be to hire a mediator to work out a family agreement rather than pursuing litigation in such a situation.

The sensible and most cost-effective thing to do in this instance is get the land valued by an independent auctioneer, and make an offer to your sister who wants to sell, to buy her share out. Then, you and your three siblings who wish to keep the land will own it together, and can rent it out, and your sister is free to take the value of her share.

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