Deeds and Title

Property Law 102: What is co-ownership?

So, now you’ve got the basics. You know the difference between a fee simple and a life estate, and how that affects your rights as a property owner. Time to go one level deeper. 

Let’s talk about co-ownership. 

Co-ownership occurs when multiple people own the same property. One common form of this is when a piece of land is inherited by multiple heirs. 

Another common form is when property is owned by spouses. In this case, each person or entity owns an interest in the property. Their rights are determined by how they own the property together. 

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Tenancy in Common

A tenancy in common is how most people think of co-ownership. Each co-owner owns a share of the property. Those shares may not be equal. One co-owner may own a 50% share, while another only owns 10%. These shares are typically referred to as a one-half interest or a one-tenth interest, rather than by percentage, but the idea is the same. 

Before we can move on to other forms, however, we must discuss the concepts of undivided interests. 

Undivided Interest

Often it is assumed that co-owners own their percentage of the land, in the sense that someone with a one-half interest owns one-half of the property. So you cut it down the middle and that is what the person owns.  

That’s not actually how it works most of the time. 

Most tenants in common have an undivided interest in the property. This means that the person owns the whole property, but only half of the title. To break that down, let’s assume that there are two tenants, each with a 50% interest. Both would have full rights to use the property. Both would have equal rights to live in the house, use the kitchen, watch television in the living room, or run a business out of the garage.  

Additionally, in tenancy in common, the deceased owner’s interest would pass through will or probate to the owner’s heirs, who would then become tenants in common with the original tenants. 

Joint Tenancy

The major structural difference between a tenancy in common and a joint tenancy is that in a joint tenancy, all co-owners own an equal share of the property. The interest each owns is undivided and equal to the number of owners. So, if a property is owned jointly by four people, each has an undivided 25% interest. 

Another important difference surfaces in what happens when an owner dies. Joint ownership, provides a right of survivorship. This right means that if a co-owner dies, the other tenants gain the deceased owner’s share without the necessity of probate. So, if there were originally three owners, each with an undivided one-third share in the property, the death of one would leave two owners, each now holding an undivided 50% share in the property.

Tenancy by the Entirety

One variation on joint tenancy is tenancy by the entirety, which applies specifically to married couples in common law (non-community property) states. This type of joint tenancy treats the married couple as one unit, but still offers the property exemption from the creditors of one spouse or the other.


Tenancy by the Entirety is essentially an enhanced version of Joint Tenancy. In addition to the right of survivorship that is afforded to joint tenants, a Tenancy by the Entirety prevents certain liens against one owner or the other from attaching to the property.

Community Property

Community property is a type of joint ownership for spouses in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Community property makes any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage the property of both spouses. Thus, even if only one spouse’s name is on a deed, the other spouse would be a joint owner in these states. 


Shared ownership comes in a few different forms, but with some common characteristics. In general, you should be careful to understand what rights you have as an owner, how the property is being used, and how you can protect your interest in the property. 

The information provided in Blueprint Academy does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. All content is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide a complete description of the subject matter. Specific processes will vary based on applicable law. The title and closing process will be handled by a third-party attorney to the extent required by law. Product offerings vary by jurisdiction and are not available or solicited in any state where we are not licensed.