Co-owning can be dicey if 1 wants out

June 12, 2009


My twin brother and I inherited our parents’ home after they died in the 1990s, and we have been renting it to tenants for the past several years. The mortgage was paid off in 2001. I would now like to sell the place and use my share of the proceeds to start a business, but my brother wants to hold on to it and keep renting it out. We hold title to the property as joint tenants, so I cannot simply sell my half-interest to someone else. What can I do?

I get this type of question often, usually from people who have jointly inherited a property or from divorcing couples who can’t agree on whether to keep their longtime home or sell it.

The easiest way to solve the problem would be to have your brother refinance the property in his name only, and draw enough cash out of the refinancing loan to buy your 50-percent interest. The fact that the previous mortgage has been completely paid off and the home is generating rental income should make getting a new loan much easier.

By following this strategy, your twin could keep the property as long as he wants, and would also be entitled to keep all of the profits when he eventually decides to sell. You, in the meantime, would get the money you need to start the new business and would no longer have to deal with tenants, maintenance issues and the like.

If your brother won’t agree to this plan, you will probably need to contact an attorney for help. The lawyer will likely suggest that you file a “partition lawsuit,” which would essentially ask a judge to order that the property be sold and the profits divided. The vast majority of such suits are decided in the plaintiff’s favor, especially if the plaintiff has a legitimate use (like starting a business or paying medical bills) for the profit that would result from the sale.

No one likes the idea of suing a relative, but you have as much right to do what you want with the home as your brother does. And frankly, the mere filing of a partition lawsuit could very well encourage your twin to refinance and buy out your equity in order to avoid spending lots of time and money fighting a lawsuit that he probably would not win.

We have made an offer to purchase our first home, and we followed your previous advice by making the offer contingent on the property receiving a satisfactory report from a professional home inspector. The inspector is coming out in 10 days. What will the inspection cover? Do we need to be there when it is conducted?

According to the American Society of Home Inspectors — a nonprofit group comprised of thousands of certified inspectors across the nation — a good inspection will include a review of the home’s heating, air-conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems; the roof, attic, basement and any visible insulation; and a check of its foundation.

It also should include an examination of the property’s walls, ceilings, windows, floors and even doors, said Florida inspector William Richardson, ASHI’s recently elected president.

You aren’t required to be present when the inspection is conducted, but you should tag along anyway. Doing so will allow you to make sure the inspector examines all the items listed above, as well as give you the opportunity to ask questions about any problems that are uncovered and learn more about how to maintain the property if you decide to complete the sale.

ASHI operates a terrific Web site ( that provides several consumer tips regarding inspections, as well as a handy tool that can quickly help you find a certified inspector who works in your area.


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