"Tenants in common” and “tenants in severalty” describe the interest property owners have and appear on the deed and title to real estate. The distinction between the two may seem small, but it’s very significant. These two types of ownership, as well as joint tenancy, represent the most common forms of property ownership.
Tenant in Severalty
The simplest form of real estate ownership is a tenancy in severalty. This represents absolute ownership by a single individual or entity, and the owner can do anything with the property that he cares to do within legal bounds -- build on it, sell it, subdivide it, pass it on as an inheritance or lease it without consulting with or obtaining permission from other owners. As the name implies, the owner’s interests are severed from any others.
Tenants in Common
The term "tenants in common" refers to an ownership situation in which more than one person owns the property. This is the most common form of ownership when the owners are not married to each other, although married couples also have the option of owning property as tenants in common. The owners are listed on the deed along with their interest in the property. In addition, each owner is issued a title document that also notes the extent of her interest in the property.
Tenants in common enjoy an equal right of possession of the entire property, and each can sell his interest without the consent of the other joint tenants. There is no right of survivorship under a tenancy in common. If one of the owners dies, his interest in the property is passed to his heirs through his will, or becomes part of his estate. When they assume ownership, his heirs become tenants in common with the other co-owners.
Called tenancy by the entireties in some states, joint tenancy is a form of multiple ownership in which all owners have an equal interest in the property. The owners together form a single entity, which owns the property. For example, when a married couple purchases a house together, the two usually take possession as joint tenants.
Joint tenancy and tenancy in common have some similarities and some differences. Like tenants in common, joint tenants share the right of possession, but unlike tenants in common, they may not sell their share to a third party. In addition, most states recognize a right of survivorship in joint tenancy; that is, when one of the owners dies, his interest in the property reverts to the survivor.