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What is a Tenancy in Common?

There are several ways to hold title to a piece of real property in Tennessee. A tenancy in common is the predominant method. When two or more people hold title to property and they are not married and there is no additional language outlining their interest in the real property, then they are likely tenants in common. For example, if the deed describes the grantees (the owners) as “Robert Jones and Walter Smith, as tenants in common” or “Robert Jones and Walter Smith, a ½ undivided interest each” or even just “Robert Jones and Walter Smith”, then you are considered tenants in common based on the deed language alone. If the owners are married then they are likely tenants by the entirety which you can learn more about here. The other main method of titling property is joint tenants with rights of survivorship which is addressed here.

What Rights do You have as a Tenant in Common?

As a tenant in common you own a separate fractional share in undivided property. This means that you do not own a specific portion or tract of the land, such as tract A and the other co-tenant owns tract B. Rather, you each own all of the tract but you may only have a ¼ or ½ or some other fractional share of that whole.

Can you sell your interest in the land if you are a tenant in common? Yes, absolutely. And you do not need the permission of the co-tenant(s) to sell your share. You also can leave your interest in the land to your heirs or beneficiaries under a last will and testament. There are practical considerations when you sell your share. For instance, prospective buyers of your ½ interest may not want to be a co-owner with the other co-tenant.

Some of the other rights you have as a tenant in common include the right to use the real property, the right to exclude third parties from the property, and the right to receive a portion of any rent or other income produced by the property. To be clear, you only have the right to evict third parties, you cannot evict the other co-tenant.

Options When Co-Tenants Disagree

If a dispute arises between co-tenants about the property, then there are options, e.g. one co-tenant can buy out the other, a third party can buy out one or both co-tenants. If no resolution can be reached, then you are not stuck forever with a person you no longer get along with, you can ask the court to partition the property. This is a form of litigation where you ask the court to either sub-divide the property into even tracts or parcels, if possible, or you ask the court to sell the property and divide the proceeds between the co-tenants according to his/her fractional interest.

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