Can a co-owner be forced to sell by another co-owner?

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Can a co-owner be forced to sell by another co-owner?

My mother passed away last year and in her Will she left her house to me, my brother, and 3 sisters (20% each). I have lived here all of my life and my sister has lived here for 50 years. The house is a duplex; I live on one side and my sister in the other. I have no job due to the economy and have no skills to obtain a job. I fear that if our house gets sold the money from it will only last me for a year or so. My sisters keep badgering me about selling the house. Is there any way that I can refuse to sell or can they force me to?

Asked on November 15, 2010 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately a co-owner(2) can force the sale of jointly owned property. In cases where joint owners cannot agree on the whether or not to sell a piece of real estate, the party seeking the sale can go to court and file an action for “partition”.  A partition can be accomplished by physical division or by sale.  In this case, physical division won't help, since you only own 20% of the overall property (i.e. you can'tphysically divide a duplex by such a percentage).  Therefore, a judge would order a "partition by sale".

Once the property is sold, the proceeds are equitably distributed to the owners.  Although before a sale would be ordered, typically the court would permit the non-filing co-owner (you) to purchase the interest of the remaining co-owner for fair market value.  However, since you are unemployed this option is of little use to you.

Absent your having been given a "life estate" (i.e. the right to occupy the premises until your death) in your mother's Will, there really isn't much that you can do here legally.  Possibly you can get you family to agree to giving you more time.


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