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Joint home ownership – time for a change in the law?

Is it time for a change in Property law relating to joint ownership of homes

Although Conveyancing Solicitors do their best to explain how property can be owned by two or more people, many buyers remain confused by the options open to them.

‘Joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’ – why are there two forms of joint ownership? What’s all this about tenants, we are buying the house, not renting it? These are just two of the many questions which Conveyancing Solicitors face from clients.

The current law relating to joint ownership has its roots in trust law, which has evolved over many centuries. Does the law now need to change again to reflect the needs of present-day society?  

When I started doing Conveyancing, it was the norm with married couples for a property to be bought in the sole name of the husband. Things have changed greatly since then – both married and unmarried couples usually purchase in joint names. It has also become common for friends to purchase together in order to raise the necessary funds.

The problem with joint ownership is that few people give much thought to what happens in the future – what happens to the property if one of them dies, or they want to go their separate ways.

Conveyancing Solicitors often send clients a leaflet explaining the two ways in which property can be jointly owned, and will try to give advice as to which is most appropriate. Often this will highlight the need for a separate trust deed setting out arrangements agreed by the buyers.

I think that the present law, while suitable when a property is owned by trustees for separate beneficiaries, is not entirely satisfactory for homes which are owned and lived in by two or more people. I do not have any immediate suggestions as to what changes could be made, but suggest that this is an area of law which the Law Commission should be considering.

Something which might help is a simple form of tribunal to determine each party’s rights. While the current law gives owners the right to apply to the courts, this will involve Solicitors and may be too confrontational (and expensive) for many.

What do you think? Drop me a line and let me have your views.


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