As the name suggests, joint tenancy has nothing to do with cohabitation. Rather, it is a legal arrangement, a type of joint ownership in real estate or land. A Tenancy in Common (TIC) allows multiple people to hold shares in the same property and pass that ownership share to an heir. These people and sometimes the entire organization are known as tenants in common.
In many places tenancy is the most common form of joint ownership of real estate (pun intended). For example, “In California, joint tenancy is the primary way to own property,” explains Sacramento attorney Elizabeth Carlson. When many owners purchase a home or other property, the default assumption may be that they are in a TIC agreement, unless their contract says otherwise.
To learn more about the definition of joint tenancy, how it works, and how it differs from the other major types of joint property ownership, read Learn More as a Joint Tenant and Landlord.
What is a joint tenancy agreement?
Joint tenancy is one way of holding property in common, and it is another way of allowing more than one person to own a property. The exact path to joint ventures varies by state, but usually includes some key elements.
- At least two parties must be involved; There is no upper limit to the number of people who can own property together. Of course, there is an inverse relationship between the number of owners and the ownership percentage of each party. In short: if you include more people, the slices of the real estate pie will be thinner for each person.
- Not all parties necessarily have the same level of ownership. One party may claim 25 percent of the property, while the other claims 75 percent.
- The arrangement does not have to be permanent. “This type of ownership can be dissolved or changed, usually by agreement of all parties,” Carlson said.
The terms of the TIC Agreement may vary from case to case. Under some TIC contracts, you can sell your share of the property without the consent of the other party. Some contracts may include language stating that you cannot sell your interest in the property without the consent of the other owners. If it’s the latter, having multiple owners can be a headache.
Likewise, some TIC agreements allow all parties to access the property at any time, while other contacts may have specific restrictions on how and when they can access and use the property. Your rights and obligations will come down to how you choose to word the legal contract, so be sure to have a real estate attorney review it before you sign on the dotted line.
One more unique feature of tenancy: divestment of shares when one of the parties dies. “When a tenant dies, their ownership interest is not extinguished,” says Carlson. So, if you own 1/4 of the house with three other friends, you can leave the 1/4 interest to someone else when you die. But, as Carlson cautions, “joint tenancies can be confusing when new individuals occupy the property.” Bringing in a new owner may require changing the original ownership plan.
Other forms of joint property ownership
Besides leasing, there are two other main ways to own a residential or commercial property.
TIC vs joint tenant
There are three main differences between a TIC and a joint tenancy.
- In a joint tenancy, all parties take an equal share: if there are five owners, each party holds 20 percent of the property, for example. In a joint tenancy, not every party wants this, so the percentage of ownership can be skewed if all parties are OK.
- All the owners in joint tenancy should hold the title deed at the same time. In a TIC, some owners may later buy or control shares.
- Joint tenancy shares cannot be bequeathed to another person. Carlson says, “A joint tenancy interest cannot be transferred to anyone other than the other owner(s) upon death. For example, if two sisters own property as joint tenants, and one sister dies, the current sister will own the entire property. It helps to make a title for property clearing.
Joint tenancy arrangements are generally for life. In some cases, a joint tenant can sell their ownership share to another party. In that case, the ownership arrangement will often be tenancy in common.
TIC vs. Tenancy in full
Also commonly called a tenancy, this type of ownership is usually reserved for married couples. Each party has an equal right to hold the property and if one person dies, the interest passes directly to the other owner (also called a right of survivorship). You cannot transfer your ownership without someone else’s permission.
Advantages and disadvantages of joint tenancy
There are potential wins and losses associated with TIC deals. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering this type of real estate share-ownership.
- If you can’t afford it yourself, you can have property ownership
- Your share can be left to someone else.
- They share debts and property taxes with co-owners.
- If another tenant takes over their share, you may end up co-owning with someone you don’t know or care about.
- You cannot sell your shares without the consent of other owners
- You cannot claim ownership of certain parts of the property, even if you own a large percentage