6.3.3 Co-Ownership Disputes Lecture - Hands on Examples

The sections set out above, explain ways in which rights in co-ownership of land may be disputed between joint tenants, successors of joint tenants, and tenants in common. This section provides a series of problem questions that probe different areas of the matters we have just been examining. The answers to the questions can be found at the bottom of the page, however you are encouraged to attempt to answer the questions first based on your own recollection or notes of the topic before looking at the answers.

Always think about the facts, the relevant statutory provision, the cases that interpret that provision, and what the outcome will be based on how those principles and cases apply to the question. As you may have gathered, both the Law of Property Act 1925 and TOLATA 1996 are especially important. Although you would not be expected to give the full citations of cases you cite (just the names of the parties and the year is usually sufficient, the name of the judge giving the ratio is even better!), you will be expected to accurately cite the relevant sections and subsections of the legislation. Simply reciting the name of the statute in your exam without the corresponding section and subsection will not be sufficient.

Answering questions based on disputes around co-ownership can be essentially reduced to a formula. If there is a successor hoping to take their deceased benefactor’s “share”, you will be looking at one of two approaches:

  1. Is there a suggestion of severance, or of invalidity of the four unities? If it is the former, go to step 2. If it is the latter, go to step 4.
  1. If it looks to be severance, which mode most applies: notice, operating upon one’s own share, mutual agreement or conduct, or involuntary alienation? Go to step 3.
  1. Depending on which type applies (and more than one type can apply), have the criteria been satisfied? If so, severance was successful and the joint tenancy became a tenancy in common at the relevant time. If not, it remains a joint tenancy.
  1. If it looks to be a dispute over the four unities, are the unities of interest, title, and time all present? If they are, it is a joint tenancy. If not, it is a tenancy in common.

Q1. Archibald and Belinda jointly purchased Blackacre. Their contributions to the purchase price were always equal. Archibald is having second thoughts about leaving all of Blackacre entirely to Belinda, and so he writes a will naming his estranged son Charlie as being the person to receive Archibald’s “interest” in Blackacre. Archibald intends to send a letter to Belinda explaining the provision in the will, but unexpectedly dies of a heart attack and so does not send the letter. Charlie learns of the will and is trying claim Archibald’s share.

Advise Charlie.

Q2. Dilbert, Eustace and Fiona are tenants in common of Whiteacre. You are the trustee responsible for managing the property. Dilbert thinks that Eustace and Fiona are being difficult co-owners, and so Dilbert draws a line around a part of Whiteacre and tells them “this is MY land now!” Eustace and Fiona in turn find Dilbert to be lazy for contributing towards their shared living expenses. Dilbert, Eustace and Fiona approach you to assist them.

Q3. George, Harrison and Ilana are joint tenants of Greenacre. George has been considering selling up and asks Harrison and Ilana if they would consider dividing up their respective shares. Harrison says it sounds like a good idea and he would agree to it. Ilana advises that they wait. Time passes and no-one takes further action. After George dies, his successor Juliet asks Harrison and Ilana how much their shares were. They say their shares were each 33%.

Advise Juliet.

Q4. Kenny and Leia are the beneficial joint tenants of Blueacre. The trustee, Marlena, is their grandmother, and struggling to manage the duties and responsibilities of the property. Marlena asks Kenny if he can be a co-trustee. Kenny is willing, but Leia does not want Kenny to be a trustee.

Advise Marlena.

A1. In this instance, it is a question about severance. It appears that Archibald is intending to act on his own “share.” The question is whether the terminology is sufficiently strong and unambiguous to amount to a severance. Given that he refers to his “interest”, arguably the wording is not enough to result in severance. Furthermore, Archibald intends to give notice to Belinda via the letter, but fails to do so and therefore notice was not given. Therefore, severance will not be successful and Belinda will take the property entirely.

A2. Dilbert is attempting to restrict rights of use of the land by physically demarcating the land. As we saw in Bull v Bull, such conduct is prohibited. You as trustee could yet apply to court however for a direction that the occupation rights of all three are proscribed to some extent. As for Eustace and Fiona, you as trustee can choose to exclude Dilbert unless he pays rent, but if you do so, he is entitled to expect compensation.

A3. This looks to be a case in which the parties have suggested severing by mutual agreement. As you will recall, that would require the parties to have gone beyond an agreement in principle and actually act on the agreement; otherwise, there is no severance (Gore and Snell v Carpenter; Crooke v de Vandes). Harrison and Illana agree the shares were 33% each, so this might amount to mutual conduct; however, because George is not present, that mutual conduct is not universal, so there is no severance.

A4. As you might recall from the discussion ‘Intention to be a legal owner’ it is within the trustee’s power to appoint anyone as a joint tenant of the legal estate. This would have no effect on Marlena’s beneficial interest, and therefore the power is open to Marlena to exercise under the LPA 1925 and TOLATA 1996. Marlena can even transfer her powers and duties of trusteeship to Kenny if she chooses to retire as per LPA 1925 S.72.

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