Property can be owned in the names of one or more people. If you're not sure whether you own your home jointly with your partner and, if you do, how it is owned, you can check the position quickly and cheaply by getting a copy of the records of the property from the Land Registry website - www.landregistry.gov.uk. It is public information. Alternatively, ask the solicitor who dealt with the purchase for you to confirm how the property is held.
If the house is in joint names
In England and Wales, if you own property jointly with someone else you will be either 'joint tenants' or 'tenants in common' (see Useful Jargon). You should have been advised which arrangement was more appropriate for you when you bought the property.
Joint tenants each own half of the property and if one of them dies, the other person will automatically inherit the other person's share. Tenants in common can own the property in whatever shares they agree, and they can each provide for their share to be left to whoever they like in their Will.
You may want to take advice from a solicitor – see Useful links– about how the type of ownership you have could affect you. You might also want to change the way that you own the property from joint tenants to tenants in common by what is called 'severing' the joint tenancy (see Useful Jargon) and then making a new Will. If you do this, you would become tenants in common each owning 50 per cent of the property. You don't need your partner's agreement for this to be effective. This is a very straightforward thing to do. You simply need to write to the other owner confirming that you want to sever the joint tenancy, although you may like to speak to a solicitor. see Useful links. You should keep a copy of any "severance" letter that you send as well as proof of sending it.
Sharing the property
If you and your partner have agreed what shares you have in the property and this was set out in writing, then generally that is what you are each entitled to. There are only very limited circumstances in which you or your partner could claim more or less than the documents say you have. For example, you may have agreed some time after the purchase that you would own the property in different shares if one of you paid off the mortgage. This is a very complicated area of law and you should take legal advice about your rights from a solicitor (see Useful links).
If you and your partner have not expressly agreed in writing what shares you have in the property then the presumption will be that you own it in equal shares. If you or your partner think that this is wrong then you would have to prove otherwise. In deciding what share you each have, a court would look at what you both intended when you bought the property and what has happened since then. The solicitor who dealt with the purchase for you may be able to let you see the original file which could help. This is a very complicated area of law and you should take legal advice about your rights from a solicitor (see Useful links).
Selling the property
You can only sell the property if you both agree. If one of you wants to stay in it, you could agree to buy out the other's share. If one of you refuses to sell the property then the other person can ask the court to order the sale of the property and direct how the proceeds of sale should be divided. This can be a very expensive process. It is possible to ask the court for an order that your partner pays your legal costs for having to make that application. This is a complicated area of law and you should take advice about your rights from a solicitor – see Useful links.
Protecting your rights
As a joint owner of the property, your partner will not be able to sell the property or remortgage it without your agreement unless they get a court order - see Selling the property. However, if your partner found themselves in financial difficulties, creditors may seek to recover your partner's interest and force a sale see Managing Money – financial problems.
If the house is in one of your names
There are very limited circumstances when a court will change the ownership of a property that is in one of your sole names and order that another person has an interest in it. Even if you have lived in the property together for many years, you could find that when you separate, you have no rights to the property and are not entitled to any of the proceeds of sale if it is sold. Your partner must give you 'reasonable notice' to leave, but this could be 28 days or less.
If you can prove that you have contributed financially towards the home (for example, you paid part of the deposit or the mortgage payments) or you can show that the original intention was that you would share the property even though it was owned legally be only one of you, then you might have an interest in the property. This area of law is complex so, if your partner does not agree with your claim, you should speak to a solicitor straight away to find out what your rights are – see Useful links.
If the house is in the name of someone else
For various reasons, a property may be owned in the name of another person or for example a trust or company. You might be able to claim an interest in the property. It is therefore essential that you find out as soon as possible who actually owns the property and also what rights you have to keep living in the property. This can be a complex area and you should speak to a solicitor if you think it could apply to you.
Cost of a home
If you are buying, calculate:
- Check who owns the home and in what shares.
- Check what rights you have if you are not an owner.
- Consider recording your rights with the Land Registry
- Get the home valued.
- Check whether your mortgage lender would agree to a transfer of the home to one of you.