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When Property Owners Don’t Agree

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By Neela Ramsundar

MULTIPLE owners for one piece of property is a common occurrence.

Unfortunately, just like having too many cooks in the kitchen, this sometimes fail to work out when the owners can’t agree on how the property is to be shared, managed or put to use.

Frequently too, one co-owner occupies the entire property to the exclusion of the other co-owners.

Care needs to be taken in this instance. Why? In this country, there are circumstances when a co-owner can lose their interest in property if another co-owner exclusively occupies the property for a continuous period of 16 years.

This is called “adverse possession”, more commonly understood as “squatters rights”.

What then are the legal options of the co-owners who don’t agree with each other?

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Option 1: Ask the other co-owners to buy your share in the property. (They would have the most interest to do so, as selling only partial property rights is going to be quite unattractive to potential buyers!)

The usual request is to have the property valued by a property appraiser who would prepare a written assessment or report of the open market value. This would then determine the purchase price. For instance, if two persons own land valued at $1 million as joint tenants, they would each have an undivided one-half interest in the property. To buy out the other, one co-owner may agree to sell their share to the other for half the property value or $500,000. Sometimes, the co-owners say they are not willing or cannot afford to buy your share. What then?

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Option 2: There is an option under the Partition Act, Chapter 27 No 14 , to approach the High Court for an order to partition the property or sell it. In order to partition or divide the property, the Court normally requires evidence that such a division will be approved by the Town & Country Planning Division (TCPD).

Some properties will be too small to divide. For example, TCPD will not permit division of residential land smaller than 5,000 square feet, which is the usual size of residential lots. In such a case, the only option will be to ask the Court to order a sale of the property and the proceeds of sale divided accorded to the share held by each co-owner.

Recently though, there was a very interesting court case where a house was partitioned allowing one co-owner to live in the upper floor, the other co-tenant having the right to the ground floor and they both share the common areas of the car port and front yard. In the event this arrangement could not work, the judge ordered the steps that would be taken to trigger a sale without returning to court for relief. It will be quite fascinating to see how this area of the law develops in the future.

Under the Partition Act, a co-owner can undertake to buy the other co-owner’s share and the court will have the power to order the property to be valued in order to determine the purchase price. Importantly though, while the court can allow a co-owner to bid on a public sale of the property, the court does not have the power to force the co-owner who sued (the claimant) to accept an undertaking by the other co-tenant to buy the property.

Suppose a co-owner doesn’t use the property because the other co-owner has committed acts which make it clear that other co-owner is not welcome there, but at the same time the ousted co-owner doesn’t want sell. That co-owner may want to consider occupation rent.

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Option 3: Occupation rent. It is not always available and would depend on the circumstances of the case. Occupation rent is a sum of money paid by the co-owner in occupation who has ousted the other co-tenant from occupying the property.

It serves as compensation for their unjust enrichment in depriving the other co-owner from being able to use the property. Receiving this payment may also serve to prevent the occupying co-owner from claiming squatter rights against the other co-tenant!

I hope this titbit of information proves useful, but always remember to consult your Attorney for advice on whether these options are available to you. Be safe Trinidad and Tobago!

Copyright © 2020 Neela Ramsundar LL.B (HONS), LEC is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. For legal advice on your specific situation, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly. Liability for any loss or damage of any kind whatsoever allegedly incurred a consequence of using content in this article is thus hereby excluded to the fullest extent permitted by law.

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