Joint ownership of property implies that there are two or more persons who contributed resources to purchase and own title to a landed property for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes as a way of resident or investment or jointly inherited or jointly gifted. The common situation of joint ownership of property is when married couples or family members are gifted or decide to purchase a property together.
Where joint ownership of property exists, it means that each party has an equal proprietary right of ownership on the land notwithstanding the weight of contribution made by each party and can jointly exercise such rights in respect of the property.
In the decided case of Sunday Obasohan Vs. Thomas Omorodion & Anor (2001) 10 SC 85; (2001) LPELR-2154 (SC), the Supreme Court in confirming the decision of the trial court declared that the plaintiff and the defendants having succeeded their respective fathers following the Bini native law and custom were joint owners of all the piece of land with building situate thereon lying at Akpakpava Street Benin City.
In the cited case above, the appellant was the defendant in an action brought against him by the respondents in respect of the premises situated Akpakpava Street, Benin. The respondent claimed that the property was acquired by their several fathers who were brothers sometime in 1919 by a grant from one obazuaye. The case was that their fathers contributed money and built on the premises, on the completion of the building, they moved in and settled there. Thomas Omorodion, the first respondent claimed that his father, one of the three brothers lived in part of the house until he died in 1957. Whereon as his father’s oldest son he inherited the portion occupied by his father and was in possession until the appellant entered that portion and converted it into rooms and shops which he let out to tenants. The appellant’s case was that his father solely acquired the premises and built on them. He claimed that his father only allowed the respondent’s fathers to live there by virtue of their being brothers. He denied that the respondents were entitled to inherit any portion of the premises.
The matter was reported to the Oba of Benin who ruled that the house belonged to the three deceased brothers. The appellant did not yield to the warning and the 1st respondent filed an action at the High Court. Judgment was entered for the 1st respondent for damages for trespass. On appeal, the Court of Appeal confirmed the judgment of the trial court.
The legal implication of a Joint Ownership of Property
There are legal implications on the purchase, gift, or inheritance of joint property by two or more persons. These include;
- In joint ownership of property, there is a unity of possession, title, and interest in the property. This simply means that the joint owners can enjoy the use of the property together at the same time. Hence, no party can lay claims of ownership of a part of the property to the exclusion of other parties.
- In joint ownership of property, where one party dies, the property is survived by the remaining owners. The consequence of this is that the rights in the property cannot pass to the children or beneficiaries of the deceased party.
- Before the rights in a joint property can be alienated to another, the consent of all joint owners must be obtained. Where consent is not obtained, the title passed to the purchaser becomes defective.
Types of Joint Ownership
There are two types of joint ownership practiced in Nigeria and these are;
- Joint Tenancy– in joint tenancy, each tenant has equal rights in the joint property at the same time. In the property instrument, there are no words of severance or separation as there is a unity of title, interest, time, and possession. The effect of this is that a joint owner cannot alienate his interest in the property without the consent of other co-owners of the property. Also, where a joint owner dies, his proprietary interest in the property is survived by the remaining co-owners and not by his heirs.
- Tenancy-in-Common– while in tenancy-in-common, the property instrument of title bears words of severance, separation, or distribution of property. The tenants in the joint ownership have unequal rights of interest in the property. where a joint owner dies, the deceased interest in the property forms part of his estate and is administered by the laws applicable to Wills (if he died testate) or Administration of Estate Law (if he died intestate). Hence, the heirs of the deceased assume ownership of the deceased share of the property because the joint co-owners cannot survive the deceased interest in the property.
Joint ownership of property can give rise to disputes that may lead to litigation action if not properly managed. However, to avoid disputes, a joint property owned by two or more parties can be severed, separated, or properly managed if the parties take steps to sever the joint ownership by way of partitioning upon acquisition of the property. Parties can agree to the partitioning of the property by engaging the services of a lawyer to execute a Deed of Partition with agreed limits, sharing the property between the joint owners to convert it to individual ownership of the land.
Where partitioning of the property will not be feasible, then terms for management, sharing, and final sale of the property be documented by a lawyer to avoid disputes. Where this is the arising situation, the lawyer can include in the management agreement a clause that would enable the beneficiaries or survivors of a deceased joint owner to acquire the property rights of the owner upon his death.
In conclusion, it is important to reiterate that before a property jointly owned is purchased, the buyer must conduct legal due diligence to ensure that the consents of all owners have been obtained and also ensure that all joint owners attest to the sale by signing as vendors, because the absence of consent on the sale of the property by one joint owner renders it invalid. This is hinged on the principle of “nemo dat quod non habet” which means that “you cannot give what you don’t have”.