Joint Tenants vs. Tenants in Common

November 9, 2021 | By Shari Hunn

An earlier blog written by Marcelina Policicchio explained the benefits afforded to a married couple owning a property in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a tenancy by the entirety.  Which type of ownership is then best for couples who are not married? They have two options. They can own the property as joint tenants, meaning that they jointly own the whole of the property regardless of how much each partner contributes, or they can own it as tenants in common. Owning property as tenants in common means that they each own a percentage of the property, which percentage does not have to be the same for each party. 

A joint tenancy must be created by a single deed or other single document granting an equal, undivided (the right to each possess the entire property) interest to the property at the exact same time. The language creating a joint tenancy must be clear. It should specifically provide that the parties are being granted the property as joint tenants, with the right of survivorship and not as tenants in common.  If the language is unclear and contested, the parties may likely be deemed tenants in common. Joint tenants may not sell any part of the property without the consent of the other owner. If one party wishes to sever the joint tenancy and the second party does not voluntarily agree, in Pennsylvania, the first party will need to institute legal proceedings to compel the division of such interest. Upon the death of one of the joint tenants, the surviving party, not the heirs of the deceased, inherits the property. The surviving party may then dispose of the property as they see fit while alive or determine who to leave it to when they pass away. 

The deed in a tenants in common situation defines the share of each party’s ownership in the property. Notwithstanding, by law, each co-owner has the right to utilize and inhabit the full property (unless the parties specifically agree in writing otherwise). Each owner could acquire its property interest at different times. For example, there might be two tenants in common owning a property, and one passes away.  The deceased’s share goes to their individual heirs who would then be tenants in common with the original remaining tenant in common. Unlike ownership as joint tenants, one owner may transfer or sell their share without the consent of the other owner. Each partner may designate in a will or a trust, who inherits their share upon such party’s passing. This may be a good choice for married or unmarried couples who have children from previous partners and do not plan to have any additional children together. 

How the deed to your home is titled deserves serious consideration. It is important to title your deed so that your property goes exactly where you want it to upon your death or separation from your co-owner.  If you have questions about property rights, please don’t hesitate to contact a member of our team to determine the advantages and disadvantages of titling or even changing ownership based upon your individual needs.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Shari Hunn

Of Counsel

Shari is a real estate attorney, focusing her practice on drafting, reviewing and negotiating leases and related documents. Shari thrives on the challenges of puzzles, which she finds relaxing.  Similarly, she regards...

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