If more than one name is on the Land Registry or the title deeds to your home, you are joint legal owners. The type of joint ownership you have will affect how you share your home and who can inherit it if you die, but you will normally both have the right to stay in your home if you split up. This can only be changed if you both agree or a court orders one of you to leave.
This section only gives an introduction to the law. If your relationship ends and you are worried about what will happen to your home, get advice - use our directory to find a Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice or other advice service in your area.
Types of joint ownership
Up to four people can be joint legal owners of a property. There are two different ways in which you can share ownership of your home:
- as joint tenants
- as tenants in common
The option you choose will be particularly important if you are not married to the other joint owner. The word 'tenants' is used to describe the different types of joint ownership, but it has nothing to do with renting.
Many couples who are married, registered as civil partners, or in long-term relationships buy as joint tenants. This means you have equal rights to the whole of the property rather than a specific share.
If you die, the other joint owner automatically inherits your share of the property. This is the case regardless of anything that is said in your will. You can only leave your share of the property to someone else when you die if you change the legal ownership to a tenancy in common. This can be done quite easily by giving the other person a formal written notice (a notice of severance). You don't need the other person's agreement, but you have to follow the correct procedure. Get advice or contact a solicitor if you want to do this.
Tenants in common
Couples in new relationships and friends and/or relatives who are buying together often choose to be tenants in common. This means that you each own a specific share of the property. You don't necessarily have to have equal shares.
If you die, your share of the property doesn't automatically pass to the other legal owner(s). It will go to whoever is named in your will or, if you haven't got a will, to your next of kin. If you want to leave your share of the property to the other legal owner(s), you can say this in your will. You can also change your legal ownership into a joint tenancy, but only if the other owner(s) agree to it.
If you have a joint mortgage you will both be responsible for the monthly payments, even if one of you has moved out. This means that your lender can ask you to pay the whole amount if your partner (or friend) stops paying. If the payments aren't made, your home could be repossessed and sold to pay off your mortgage. If you are worried about mortgage payments, get advice immediately. An adviser can help you work out your options and/or negotiate with your lender.
Staying in your home
If you are joint owners, you have equal rights to live in the property. This means that none of the joint owners can be forced to leave without a court order. If you want to sell the property or take out a loan against it (a second mortgage) all the joint owners have to agree.
If you decide that you don't want to live together any more and can't agree who should stay or whether the property should be sold, get advice. The rules about what you are entitled to will depend on any legal agreement you made when you bought your home and your personal situation (such as whether you are married or civil partners, and/or have children). You may need help from a solicitor.
You might have to get a court order to decide:
- who can stay in the short term
- whether the property should be sold or not
- if the property isn't sold, who can stay in the long term
- what financial share of the property each joint owner is entitled to.
In the short term
If another joint owner tries to force you to move out before you can agree what will happen to your home, you can ask the court for an occupation order. This will give you the right to stay in your home until an agreement is made but won't necessarily mean you can stay there long term. The court will have to assess the housing needs and conduct of each joint owner when deciding whether to grant an occupation order.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse but want to remain in your own home you may also be able to get a court order (an injunction) to keep the abusive person out of your home, or prevent them coming near your home or contacting you.
You can get more information on injunctions from a housing aid centre, or citizens advice bureau. They may be able to help you find a solicitor specialising in family law. They can also put you in touch with the Police Community Safety Unit.
In the long term
What the court will decide normally depends on whether you are married, registered as civil partners or living together, and/or whether you have children. If you are married to or in a civil partnership with the other joint owner, the divorce court can order:
- that the property has to be transferred into one person's name
- that the property has to be sold
- that the partner caring for the children stays in the home
- that one partner can stay in the property and pay rent to the other.
These orders can also be made if you are living together and have children, but only if the order would be in the best interests of the children.
If you are living together but don't have children, the court can't transfer ownership into one person's name. However, it can order:
- who can live in the property
- that the property has to be sold
- that the property cannot be sold yet.
Being a joint owner doesn't automatically mean that you will each get half of the proceeds if the property is sold. If you didn't make a legal agreement about the shares you are each entitled to when you bought your home, it will be more difficult to prove. You will probably need help from a solicitor. If you can't come to an agreement, the courts can decide. The court's decision may depend on:
- whether you are married to each other or not
- whether you have a registered civil partnership or not
- whether you had a verbal agreement
- how long you have been living in your home
- whether you paid part of the deposit when you bought your home
- whether you have made regular payments towards the mortgage.
If you are married and are getting a divorce, or ending a civil partnership, the courts may decide to give you a bigger share. This will depend on your personal circumstances such as what income each partner has, and who will be responsible for looking after the children.
If you are not married or registered as civil partners, the court is less likely to do this. Its decision will probably be based on what was agreed when you bought the property.