Can a Co-Owner of Real Property Rent Without the Others' Permission?

The effect of tenants on your property rights depends on the circumstances.

The effect of tenants on your property rights depends on the circumstances.

Co-owning a house is easier on the wallet than buying alone -- but it can make it a lot harder deciding what to do with the house. When two or more people own real estate together, they each have an unlimited right to use it equally. One owner can often decide to rent all or part of the property, but not if it interferes with the other's rights.

The Agreement

A written agreement is the best way to eliminate, or at least reduce disputes over managing co-owned property. Say you and a friend co-own a rental property. If the agreement says both of you have to approve potential tenants, your friend needs your permission, Conversely, an agreement that says you and you alone have the responsibility frees you from consulting with your friend. It's not legally required that you and your co-owners have such a written agreement, but it does make co-ownership easier.

Rental Income

Even if a co-owner rents out the property over your objections, she still has financial obligations. For example, if your business partner decides to rent out some of your office space without consulting you, you're entitled to a share of the rent check. That she acted on her own initiative doesn't change this. Typically, if you each have half-ownership, you get half the money. A written agreement can change that; for example, one owner may receive more of the rental money in return for making any necessary repairs.

Rights of Possession

Both you and your co-owner have property rights that the other has to respect. Suppose the two of you own a rental house that you intend to live in for the summer. If he rents the house out over your objections, this denies you your right of use. What happens next depends on the circumstances, and the laws of your state. If you don't contest being "ousted," a judge might take that as evidence you're okay with it. If you do object, you may be able to claim financial damages.

Giving In

If you're absolutely, utterly opposed to the rental, it may be that you and your co-owners should call it a day. With most forms of joint ownership, any owner can go to court and ask to partition the property, dividing it up and sundering the joint ownership. In some cases, it's a literal physical division -- three owners each get a third of the apartments in their rental building, say. In others, there's no practical way to divide it fairly, so the court has you sell the property and split the profits.

 

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Author of two film reference books, "Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan" and "The Wizard of Oz Catalog." Published in Air & Space, Backpacker, Newsweek, The Writer, and multiple trade journals (can fax samples if requested, don't have them available digitally)

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