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Types of Property Ownership in California

Homeownership comes in many forms, depending on the title one holds over the property. Titles refer to one’s right to ownership, whereas deeds are legal documents that attest to that right. The sort of title a person holds to a property affects the degrees of freedom they may have over ownership, selling, and inheriting portions of their home.



Sole Ownership

Typically, unmarried individuals will acquire sole ownership titles where they have complete control over the property and may do as they please. While it is possible to acquire sole property ownership while married or with a domestic partner, the spouse or partner must legally relinquish their rights and title.


Such properties will be passed along in accordance with the will of the owner. However, without a will, the property will default to state law in determining ownership. When this happens, court-appointed executors are sometimes installed to supervise the property transfer.


Co-Ownership

Generally, all co-owners share the rights to freely use the property with shared operating and maintenance costs among themselves, to sell the property and share profits generated by it, and to file a partition action to force a sale of the property. Written agreements between parties can amend such rights but will otherwise apply by default. Additionally, co-ownership of a property in California commonly falls into three categories, and different types of co-owned titles have varying degrees of property rights between parties.


Community Property

All property titles granted to married or partnered individuals are called community property. Such properties share equal ownership between the couple. This means that they each own half the property and must agree to legal matters involving it, such as selling it or taking out loans. Either party can transfer their share of the property postmortem via a will or trust. Alternatively, they could have a community property title with a right of survivorship, which would pass the title over to the living spouse instead of an heir in case of death.


Tenancy in Common

This term refers to properties simultaneously owned by multiple individuals but not necessarily in equal shares. How the property is split is decided upon prior to officializing necessary legal documents. Owners can do as they like with their portion of the property without the consent of the other property owners. Should an owner die, there is no right to survivorship, meaning their title would pass onto their heirs rather than be dispersed among the remaining owners. Such arrangements are ideal for a single property purchased by a group whose members cannot make equal contributions.


Joint Tenancy

Joint tenancy titles refer to properties that are equally shared among multiple owners who share all other rights and responsibilities associated with their ownership. This is similar to community property titles, except that joint tenancy titles do not require the participating parties to be in a marriage or domestic relationship. This arrangement ensures the right to survivorship so that should any property owners die, their share of the property becomes redistributed equally among the remaining property owners.


Different types of property ownership come with different rules and benefits. While this overview covers the basic default rules of each title, these rules may be changed depending on the terms of the written agreement your specific property is bound to. Please consult a lawyer for detailed questions regarding property ownership. Our team would be more than happy to put you in contact with one.


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