Sharing ownership of real estate can be difficult. Owning real estate comes with benefits, such as use or income, and burdens, such as expenses and maintenance. It can be all too common that joint owners of real estate do not see eye to eye on the allocation of the benefits and burdens of property ownership. Therefore, a common recommendation of attorneys is to use some form of trust or limited liability company to provide a set of guidelines for shared ownership. Often, when multiple people inherit one plot of land the issues of shared use and management never get fully considered.
If it is starting to look like the joint ownership will never result in anything other than headaches for the owners, it may be time to consider a change. One option could be to mutually agree to divide the land. Next, one owner could decide to buy out the other owner. Alternatively, all the land could be sold, and the proceeds split among the owners. The big challenge with these options is that it requires the parties to work together. After years of disagreeing, this is not always an easy thing to do. If no agreement can be reached, then there is the option of filing partition action in court.
A partition action is a lawsuit that provides the remedy of dividing jointly owned real estate, either physically or by forced sale. Generally, a co-owner of real property is entitled to a partition by the court.
There are two forms of partition actions in Maine, statutory partition and equitable partition. The key difference between the two is statutory partition provides for only physical division of the property. On the other hand, "[e]quitable partition is more flexible in its procedure than "partition by petition" and is not limited to a physical division and may be carried out by sale, as statutory partition may not be..." Libby v. Lorrain, 430 A.2d 37, 39, 1981.
Partition by sale will be ordered in scenarios where "physical division is impractical or would materially injure the rights of the parties." For example, a small developed lot would likely require a partition by sale.
When partitioning real estate, the court can consider whether one party paid significantly more of the expenses, such as taxes, associated with the real estate. A party's share of the division can be adjusted accordingly. Because of this, it is important to keep accurate records of the money you are putting into jointly owned property.
Lawsuits are expensive, emotional, and time consuming. Every step that could potentially lead to an agreement should be taken prior to involving the court. Consult with an attorney, to determine is a partition action is right for you.
*Blog posts are meant to be brief introductions to legal issues. All posts are for educational purposes and are not a substitute for direct consultations with an attorney regarding your situation.