Title to Real Property

The word “title” has two meanings: 1) the right to ownership of real property, and 2) the evidence of ownership by a deed. A properly-conveyed deed should be recorded to provide notice to the world of ownership. Title to real property can be held by one person or by multiple people. Title can also be held by a trust or a business entity.  When title is held by more than one owner, there are three ways to hold title to the same property: 

  • Tenants in common – each owner owns an undivided interest in the whole property, which means they can sell or otherwise transfer or encumber (borrow against) their own interest in the property. In New York, whenever more than one person buys or inherits property together, it is automatically held as tenants in common, unless they are husband and wife. If a tenant in common dies, the deceased person’s interest passes to their heirs or to the person specified in the terms of the deceased person’s will. If you no longer want to be a tenant in common, you can file an action for “partition,” in which the court may, in certain circumstances, divide up the interests in the property.  
  • Joint tenants – each owner owns an undivided interest in the whole property, but if the interest is sold, the joint tenancy ends and the owners become tenants in common. If one of the joint tenants dies, the deceased person’s interest automatically goes to the other joint tenant. This is known as a “right of survivorship.” Some states require that the right of survivorship must be stated to exist (typically referred to as “JTROS”) Joint tenants can also ask the court to partition the property if they no longer wish to own it together. 
  • Tenants by the entirety – this is a special joint tenancy for married persons. It has the same rights as joint tenants, with a right of survivorship, but there is no right to partition or transfer the property without the consent of both parties.

Legal Editors: Terrence Dunn and Ira H. Goldfarb, July 2017

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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