Definition of tenancy in common
Tenancy in common is the default form of concurrent estate, in which each owner, referred to as a tenant in common, is regarded by the law as owning separate and distinct shares of the same property. By default, all co-owners own equal shares, but their interests may differ in size.
This form of ownership is most common where the co-owners are not married or have contributed different amounts to the purchase of the property. The assets of a joint commercial partnership might be held as a tenancy in common.
Tenants in common have no right of survivorship, meaning that if one tenant in common dies, that tenant's interest in the property will be part of his or her estate and pass by inheritance to that owner's devisees or heirs, either by will, or by intestate succession. Also, as each tenant in common has an interest in the property, they may, in the absence of any restriction agreed to between all the tenants in common, sell or otherwise deal with the interest in the property (e.g. mortgage it) during their lifetime, like any other property interest.
Destruction of tenancy in common
Where any party to a tenancy in common wishes to terminate (usually termed "destroy") the joint interest, he or she may obtain a partition of the property. This is a division of the land into distinctly owned lots, if such division is legally permitted under zoning and other local land use restrictions. Where such division is not permitted, a forced sale of the property is the only alternative, followed by a division of the proceeds.
If the parties are unable to agree to a partition, any or all of them may seek the ruling of a court to determine how the land should be divided - physically division between the joint owners (partition in kind), leaving each with ownership of a portion of the property representing their share. Courts may also order a partition by sale in which the property is sold and the proceeds are distributed to the owners. Where local law does not permit physical division, the court must order a partition by sale.
Each co-owner is entitled to partition as a matter of right, meaning that the court will order a partition at the request of any of the co-owners. The only exception to this general rule is where the co-owners have agreed, either expressly or impliedly, to waive the right of partition. The right may be waived either permanently, for a specific period of time, or under certain conditions. The court, however, will likely not enforce this waiver because it is a restraint on the alienability of property.
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