Real estate is commonly owned by more than one person—when, for example, two or more people buy a property together, or when a will grants a property to more than one person (such as when a parent leaves a single property to all of her children). Property can also be owned by multiple legal entities, such as corporations or investment groups.

Having more than one legal owner of real property makes it highly likely that disputes will arise over ownership rights. These disputes are, in fact, so common that United States and New York State property law has specific guidelines and tools for remedying them.

When two or more co-owners find themselves unable to jointly manage or maintain a property, either owner can bring a partition action against the others. A partition action seeks the court’s intervention to divide each owner’s interest in the property. The court and the parties can accomplish this in several ways, but ultimately the goal of any partition action is to end joint ownership of the subject property.

The maintenance and management of jointly owned property can lead to many disputes—but also many potential methods of resolution. Some of these disputes can be negotiated and resolved without court intervention. Sometimes, co-owners simply need a clear statement of each owner’s rights to and responsibilities for the property. In other situations, chronic discord between owners makes it impossible to continue any sort of joint ownership, and filing a partition action with the court is the only reasonable course of action. An experienced real estate attorney can help you navigate the intricacies of joint property ownership. Contact the skilled team at Ezratty, Ezratty and Levine to learn more about your options for resolving disputes between joint property owners. We have decades of experience in working with property owners, and we will help explore all your options to find the right solution for you.

Different Methods of Dividing the Property 

There are several ways for joint property owners to divide a property. The simplest method involves the parties agreeing on how to divide the subject property. One owner can buy out the other owners’ interest in the land, or the owners can agree on an equitable physical division of the property’s acreage. The owners can also agree to sell the property and divide the proceeds.

When co-owners cannot agree on the method of dividing the property (or if one owner does not want to divide the property at all), any owner can file a partition action with the court. The court will then determine whether any owner objects to the partition (and if so, whether continued joint ownership is possible). Partition actions in the state of New York are governed by Article 9 of the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Act.

If the court determines that continued joint ownership is not possible, it will order the property divided. The court can either: (1) physically divide the property and award each owner a portion, or (2) appoint a court referee to oversee the sale of the property and divide the proceeds among the owners.

In New York, it is more common to sell the property and divide the proceeds (“partition by sale”) than to physically divide the property (“partition in kind”). This is simply because of the nature of most buildings and real property in the state.

Equitable Division, Not Equal Division

When a court divides a property—whether by partition in kind or partition by sale—each owner is not automatically entitled to an equal share of the property. The owner’s shares are determined by the method in which the property was acquired.

When a will grants a property to more than one person without specifying each owner’s portion, New York law presumes that the bequest intended that the parties own it as tenants in common. Tenancy in common is a type of joint ownership of property that allows each party to hold a percentage interest in the property. Importantly, in tenancy in common includes a right to transfer the interest in the property without the permission of the other tenant and a deceased tenant’s interest passes to his or her heirs, rather than the other tenant.

When more than one owner purchases a property, the owners will generally specify their ownership portions on the deed. Ownership portions in a joint purchase will generally follow the portion of sales price contributed by each owner. These owners are considered Tenants in Common. A partition action of tenants in common will award each owner the share specified in the deed, sales documents, contractual agreements, or other documentation. If neither tenant in common can provide evidence of each owner’s share, the court will divide the property in equal shares.

Ouster of Co-Owners

Whether owners are joint tenants or tenants in common, all co-owners have an equal right to physical access to the property. No owner can attempt to remove a co-owner or block his access to the property. This is known as ouster. Co-owners who have been ousted from a property can bring legal action to regain access, recover damages against the co-tenant, or divide the property. See New York Consolidated Laws, Real Property Actions and Proceedings §633.

Effective Resolution of All Co-Tenancy Disputes

Joint ownership can lead to a stunning variety of disputes between owners. The management and maintenance of property raises many questions about each owner’s rights to, and responsibility for, the property. Good communication and knowledge of the law regarding co-ownership, can, however, effectively resolved these disputes. Ezratty, Ezratty and Levine has been helping joint owners clarify and establish their rights since 1992. Learn what an experienced real estate attorney can do to improve your co-ownership relationship or protect your rights during a partition of the property by contacting us online or calling our office at (516) 747-5566.