What happens when you own a piece of real estate with someone else or a group of other people, but there is a disagreement on what to do with the property? Someone may want to sell, someone may want to rent, and someone else may want to use the property as a primary residence. Disputes over shared property can be a familiar scenario, typically amongst family. For example, parents may have deeded their home to their children as co-tenants, or perhaps a piece of property has passed down through multiple generations and the co-owners are now distant cousins.
These shared arrangements can pose challenges and natural conflicts. A common cause of such a conflict is when one co-owner lives in the property while the other co-owners would benefit from selling. If you need to sell property that you co-own with your co-owner, but your co-owner refuses to cooperate or even communicate, you may feel locked into an unwanted ownership arrangement.
Co-owners have an absolute right to enjoy and benefit from their property. If negotiations have failed then the legal remedy is the petition to partition. A partition is the equitable division of property. In Massachusetts a land owner can bring a petition to partition to Land Court or to the Probate Court in the county where the land is. The judge will appoint a commissioner, who is an independent attorney, and the commissioner will either physically divide the land, if practical, or hire a realtor and force the sale of the property. The non-cooperating co-tenant can do little to stop the partition.
The petition to partition can be expensive if carried through to the end. The parties may end up paying the commissioner up to ten percent of the value of the real estate, plus the legal fees for the parties’ own attorneys. It is always beneficial for the property owners to negotiate on their own terms to keep costs down. The petition to partition, however, is the tool that can bring otherwise non-cooperating co-owners to the table. If all else fails, the legal system is available to ensure that every co-owner can benefit from their property.
Michael Couture is an associate at the law firm of Winston Law Group, LLC, where he specializes in public benefits eligibility and probate matters. He represents seniors and disabled individuals with Medicaid, Social Security (SSDI & SSI), and Veterans Affairs (VA) applications and appeals. He also represents clients before the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).