Property is often owned by more than one individual. Texas recognizes a variety of forms of co-ownership. Co-owners of property possess certain rights and owe their fellow owners certain duties that would not exist if there was a sole owner of the property. This article will briefly explore these rights and duties. If you are having a legal issue related to the co-ownership of property in the Austin, Round Rock, or Pflugerville area contact the real estate attorneys at the Law Office of Farren Sheehan.
Initially, it should be noted that co-owners may generally establish what rights and duties are owed through a written agreement. Absent an agreement however, there are certain standard rules that apply. The most basic right of a co-owner of real estate is the right to possess the entirety of the property. The right of possession brings with it the right to a proportionate share of the natural resources, including oil and gas, present on the property. In a situation where only one co-owner actually possesses the property the co-owner in possession is not required to pay rent to the co-owner out of possession. Similarly, co-owners are not generally required to share profits earned from their use of the property with other co-owners. The right to possession is not exclusive. Therefore one co-owner may not prevent another from accessing the property. A co-owner that is denied access may bring an action for ouster to gain access to the property.
Co-owners of real estate own one another a number of duties. First, co-owners are generally jointly responsible for necessary operating expenses and debts of the property. This includes taxes and mortgages. If one co-owner pays a disproportionate share of such expenses they may seek contribution from the other co-owners.
Co-owners also have a duty to protect the property from waste. For a detailed explanation of waste in Texas real estate law, see here.
Co-owners also have a duty to reimburse another co-owner for repairs or improvements to the property if, and only if, they are necessary and beneficial. For example, if a co-owner repairs a well necessary for supplying the property with water, the other co-owners will likely be required to reimburse him for such a repair.
A final and important right of a co-owner is the right to partition. Generally, each co-owner has the unilateral right to partition the property. Such a partition can occur voluntarily through a written agreement or involuntarily through court action. A partition action will result in the division of the co-owned property into distinct, separate portions. If a physical division of the property is not possible, a court may order a sale of the property with the proceeds divided proportionately among the co-owners.
This article has outlined the basic rights and duties of co-owners, but is not an exhaustive list. If you have questions regarding the rights or duties of co-owners contact our law offices for a consultation.
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