Partition Suit

Home owners don't need to feel distraught by the division of property ownership.


The laws of D.C. and Virginia allow multiple people to own a share of a home. But what if one owner wants to sell the home and the other owner doesn’t? What if one person paid more for the property, and the other person still wants half of the purchase price? What if you buy a home with a partner and then split up? Do you have to live with your ex like Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn in the Break-Up?

First, some general rules. Most importantly, an owner always has the right to ask the court to “partition” the home. Much like King Solomon, the court will not actually divide a home in half. Instead, a judge will direct the owners to try mediation in order to seek an agreement for one of the parties to buy-out the co-owner(s).

The court will then order a sale if there is equity in the home and the parties cannot agree during mediation. Courts will not order a partition sale for homes that are “underwater.” The parties will then choose a real estate agent to list the home or the court will choose one if they cannot agree. Once the house is sold, co-owners will split any remaining profit after closing costs and the mortgage have been paid.

So far, the process is similar for all three types of communal ownership. But at this point, the process differs depending on how the property is titled.



Tenancy by the Entirety:

Two spouses may own the home as a “tenancy by the entirety.” They may only seek partition of their home due to divorce. The judge will analyze a number of factors to equitably split up the property. The judge may allocate more of the profits to one spouse over the other depending on the circumstances.

Joint Ownership With a Right of Survivorship:

Each owner has an equal share if the property is a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship. Regardless of how much each party paid towards the purchase price, if the property is sold, they will each receive an equal share of the profits. But one side may have to account to the other for the amount spent on utilities, taxes and upkeep. The request of a partition sale automatically converts a joint ownership with right of survivorship into a tenancy in common.

Tenancy in Common:

Tenants in common have the same rights as joint tenants to request a sale. The main difference is that they may own unequal interests in the property and therefore may earn a different percentage of the profits.

And finally, someone who has a life estate in a property – meaning the right to live in a home for the rest of one’s life – may not seek partition in Virginia.

If you are having a property dispute with a co-owner, contact an attorney to advise you of your options.

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