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What is joint ownership?

This content applies to England & Wales

An explanation of what is joint ownership.

Joint ownership

Joint ownership means that two or more people are the legal owners of the property, even though other people may be living there. Usually, joint owners are liable for the whole of the payments for any joint loans secured on the property, and decisions about the property are made by all the joint owners.

Historically, the legal owner of the property is shown on the title deeds, but this is now only true of 'unregistered land'. If this is the case, the title deeds will normally be held by the lender (if there is a loan on the property), by the solicitor involved in the conveyance or by the owner her/himself. Most residential property is now registered, and information about ownership is included in the proprietorship register held at the Land Registry. A copy of this can be obtained from the Land Registry for a small fee.

Married couples and civil partners who are joint owners are referred to in legal terms as 'joint tenants at law' (the use in this context of the word 'tenant' has nothing to do with rented property). This means that they are each entitled to possession of the whole of the land and the right to occupy it.[1] They are said to hold the property as trustees under a 'trust for sale'. Married couples and civil partners who are joint legal owners do not necessarily have the same beneficial interests (also known as equitable interests), which are the interests that they would be entitled to receive if the property were sold. They are either:

  • beneficial joint tenants (also called 'joint tenants in equity'), or
  • tenants in common (also called 'equitable' or 'beneficial' tenants in common).

Beneficial joint tenants

If the married couple or civil partners are beneficial joint tenants, this means that they are both equally entitled to the whole net financial value of the property. This means that if one of them dies, the whole of the beneficial interest remains owned by the survivor.

Tenants in common

If the married couple or civil partners are tenants in common, this means that they have distinct shares in the property. These shares may or may not be equal. Where the contributions (and hence the shares) are unequal, it will normally be presumed that the joint owners are tenants in common. To determine each joint owner's share of the beneficial interest, it is necessary to look at contributions made and any deed or agreement as to the beneficial interest.

For more information about what type of ownership is held, and how shares in the property are established, see the page on Establishing each owner's interest in the section on cohabiting couples: joint owners. However, for most married couples and civil partners who are divorcing, establishing each partner's share in the property is not particularly relevant. This is because the court will decide how the property should be divided when making a property adjustment order (see property transfers for divorcing couples on the page on Solutions involving the courts for details) as part of divorce proceedings.

Freehold and leasehold ownership

Ownership of a property may be freehold or leasehold. Freehold ownership is unlimited in time, while leasehold properties are let on a long lease for a fixed term. For more information about home ownership, see the Home ownership section. This section applies equally to freehold and leasehold property, but it does not apply to short-term leases or tenancies, for example for one or two years, or weekly or monthly, which are discussed in the section on Married/civil partner: joint tenant and the section on Cohabiting couples: joint tenants.

[1] s.36 Law of Property Act 1925.

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