Severing Joint Tenancies Between Non-Married Partners in Washington D.C.

A joint tenancy cannot exist unless there is a present unity of interest, title, time and possession; that is to say, the interests must be identical, they must accrue by the same conveyance, they must commence at the same time and the estate must be held by the same undivided possession.

What is a Joint Tenancy?

A joint tenancy is a form of concurrent ownership in an estate or property, where two or more people hold equal rights and interests to that entire property. A joint tenancy cannot exist unless there is a present unity of interest, title, time and possession; that is to say, the interests must be identical, they must accrue by the same conveyance, they must commence at the same time and the estate must be held by the same undivided possession.

Equal Interests to Property

D.C law, much like common law, states that joint tenants with the right of survivorship have essentially two interests: 1) a present right to possession of property in its entirety and an undivided portion of its profits and, the right to alienate that present right during her lifetime, and 2) a future right to the whole property contingent on her outliving joint tenant and joint tenancy not being severed during their lifetimes. D.C Courts have explained that the deed creating the joint tenancy constitutes a contract and the rights of a joint tenant are governed by District of Columbia law. Thus, acquiring the rights of a joint tenant as defined by that law. Unlike a tenancy by the entity which is enjoined by a unity of marriage, a joint tenant is able to pledge or sell her interest or compel partition of the property.

Dividing Property Interests in a Joint Tenancy

There are instances where two or more people choose to purchase property with a joint tenancy deed for business purposes, then there are instances where a deed in conveyed through an instrument, like a will, to two or more family members to inherit, and then there are other times where two un-married partners choose to purchase property under both of their names, with a joint tenancy deed. Not all relationships have fairy-tale endings, and when they don’t, two people are usually stuck in a pickle. When a joint tenant chooses to end a relationship with her other joint tenant, and significant other, the division of property is usually difficult to mutually agree on. This is where court action comes into play.

A joint tenant may compel for partition, which asks the court for an equitable division of property based on a number of relevant factors. The court must first determine the respective shares which the parties hold in the property, before the property can be divided. The general test of whether a partition in kind (a physical division of the property according to the co-tenants shares) would result in loss or injury to the owners is whether the property can be divided without materially impairing its value or the value of a joint owner’s interest in it. However, one thing a joint owner cannot compel the court to do is force one joint tenant to sell his or her interest to the other joint tenant. Therefore, in cases where it appears the property cannot be divided without loss or injury to the parties interested, the court may decree a partition by sale (a sale of the property thereof) and a division of the money arising from the sale among the parties, according to their respective rights.


If you have any questions regarding joint tenancies and your rights as a joint owner, do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced attorneys at EPGD Business Law. EPGD Business Law is located in beautiful Coral Gables, West Palm Beach and historic Washington D.C. Call us at (786) 837-6787, or contact us through the website to schedule a consultation.

*Disclaimer: this blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*

Categories: Civil Litigation | Real Estate Law

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