The Perils of Co-Ownership

The increasing price of home ownership may lead some to consider co-owning land with a family member or friend. Where spouses own land together, the fair distribution of expenses and assets is usually dealt with by family law. Other co-owners may be surprised to find out that the law provides limited remedies in the case of a dispute arising about sharing profits and expenses.

Prudent co-owners may have entered into a written agreement that outlines their obligations regarding the property. Absent such an agreement, the only times that a co-owner may make a claim that the other pay their share of expenses or account for any profits received is during a court-ordered sale or if the co-owner has been denied access to the property by a fellow co-owner.

The fact that one co-owner exclusively occupies the property does not give any others a right to claim rent from that person. Even in a court-ordered sale, the court will only make an order for the payment of rent from an exclusive occupant if that occupant makes a claim for payment of a share of their expenses.

Where one co-owner obtains profits from the property, the traditional view in the law is that there is similarly no right to claim for a share of those profits unless the other co-owner has been denied access to the property or on a court-ordered sale.

In 2012, the British Columbia Law Institute issued a report on accounting and contribution between co-owners of land that called it a “rudimentary and archaic” area of the law. It recommended introducing a general right to claim contribution towards necessary expenses from other co-owners.

Until that happens, anyone considering co-ownership of land should obtain legal assistance to make sure that they have an enforceable right to share both the expenses and profits of land ownership.