Joint tenancy is a form of concurrent ownership, whereby two or more individuals hold title to a specific property. All of the joint tenants share an equal and undivided right to use and enjoy the property. The deed to the property usually indicates that the concurrent property owners take title as joint tenants. There are several ways to sever a joint tenancy.
Severance of joint tenancy usually occurs when one or more of the joint tenants transfer their interest to a third party, or one or more joint tenants file a petition in court to partition the property.
Conveying Property Interest -- Third Party
A quitclaim deed or a warranty deed can be used to convey your interest in the property to another person. At this point, the joint tenancy is severed because your conveyance destroys the four unities, which were necessary to create the joint tenancy. The four unities of joint tenancy are present when all of the joint tenants take their interest in the property at the same time, under the same instrument, such as a deed. Also, all joint tenants can equally possess the entire property.
After Conveying Third-Party Property Interest
After you convey your interest in the property to a third party, the third party holds the property as a tenant in common to the remaining joint tenants. Unlike joint tenants, tenants in common only have title to a certain percentage of the property. For instance, if there are three joint tenants, and one individual conveys his interest to a third party, the third party only owns one-third interest in the property; the remaining two joint tenants continue to share concurrent ownership in respect to their portion of the property.
Conveying Property Interest -- Joint Tenant
Conveying your interest in the property to another joint tenant is an alternative option, which also severs the joint tenancy. For example, if you own property as a joint tenant with two other individuals, you may transfer one-third interest in the property to another joint tenant. The individual who receives this interest holds title to one-third interest in the property as a tenant in common with the other remaining joint tenant. Also, the remaining joint tenants continue to share an undivided interest in two-thirds of the property.
Partitioning the Property
Demand partition of the property by filing a petition in court to either physically divide the property or sell the property. If you do not choose to transfer your interest in the property to another individual, you may seek a partition of the property in court. A court will order a partition in kind, which is a physical division of the property, unless physical division is impossible and not in the best interest of all the joint tenants. As a result, you and the other concurrent owners of the property will hold the property as tenants in common.
Alternatively, the court may order a partition by sale, whereby the property is sold and the proceeds of the sale are divided among the co-owners.
Avoid seeking a partition in court by having the joint tenants agree to partition the property voluntarily and exchange individual deeds, whereby the individuals can own the property as tenants in common. Also, the joint tenants may voluntarily agree to sell the property and divide the proceeds among themselves.