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Rights and Duties of Co-Tenants

Rights and Duties of Co-Tenants

Co-tenants may own real estate in one of three ways — as joint tenants, as tenants in common, and as tenants by the entirety. Except for the exclusive rights noted below, co-tenants generally have the same rights and duties.


Although each co-tenant has the right to possess all of the real estate and cannot exclude the other, parties can agree that one or more co-tenant will have sole possession of the premises. An agreement does not affect the tenancy itself, but allows for the peaceable occupation and the useful possession of the land by one or more co-tenant. If a co-tenant has been excluded or deprived of the right of possession, most jurisdictions require the co-tenant who occupies the land to pay a reasonable rental value to the other co-tenant. An ousted co-tenant may bring a suit to obtain a judgment for the rental value, or he may bring a partition suit to sever the land or obtain a sale and distribution of proceeds.

Accounting, Rents, and Profits

A co-tenant who rents the property to a third person must account to other co-tenants for the all rents received. Generally, other co-tenants are entitled to receive their proportionate share of the rents. The same duty to account and to pay a proportionate share applies when a co-tenant has used the property to recover minerals that are beneath the surface of the land. This is so because things that are beneath the ground are not easily ascertained and measured.

The rule is somewhat different when a co-tenant cuts trees on the land. In such cases, a co-tenant does not have to pay a proportionate share because trees are easily seen. A co-tenant may cut his or her proportionate share of the lumber. He or she only has a duty to account if he or she cuts more than his or her share.


As with possession, co-tenants may agree that one or more of the co-tenants will assume the duty to pay taxes. Barring an agreement, each co-tenant is obligated to pay taxes on the land. If a co-tenant fails to pay, the other co-tenants may pay on behalf of the whole and file suit to compel reimbursement.

Exclusive Rights

Joint tenants and tenants by the entirety enjoy the right of survivorship that tenants in common do not enjoy. Tenants by the entirety must be husband and wife. Neither tenant by the entirety can convey the property to a third person or sue to sever their tenancy.


Except for a tenant by the entirety, any co-tenant can terminate the tenancy by bringing a partition suit. In such cases, a court may either divide the land among the co-tenants or order the sale of the land and the distribution of the proceeds of the sale.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.