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What happens when unmarried couples or friends want to sell up?

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It’s easy to become joint home owners: a joint ownership is typically created when an unmarried couple, or friends, buy a property together. This may work well for many years, but what if the relationship breaks down or friends want to part ways? This creates a joint ownership dispute.

Often one, or both, of the joint owners do not want to leave the property and would rather buy the other out, but what is the legal solution? Can the court force one joint owner to transfer their share to another?

In a recent case in the Court of Appeal, it was confirmed that the court does not have the power to order that one joint owner’s share of a property be transferred to the other for a specific price. What the court can do however is use its discretion to order that the property be sold, but with one joint owner being given the opportunity to buy it at market value and within a specific time frame before it is placed on the open market.

Bagum v Hafiz and Hai [2015] EWCA Civ 801

Mrs Bagum and her two sons, Mr Hafiz and Mr Hai, jointly owned a property together in equal shares. Mr Hafiz and Mr Hai had families of their own who also lived in the property. Over time tensions grew to the point where Mr Hai moved out.

Discussions between the joint owners broke down which resulted in court proceedings being issued by Mrs Bagum who sought an order that Mr Hai sell his share of the property to Mr Hafiz.

The judge did not make the order as applied for by Mrs Bagum and instead made an order that the property be sold but with Mr Hafiz being given the opportunity to buy it within a specified period of time and for a price which was determined by the court. In absence of Mr Hafiz buying the property, it would be placed on the open market where all of the joint owners could bid for it.

The Court of Appeal upheld this decision. Although the court cannot order that one joint owner transfer their share to another, it can make an order which has a similar effect i.e. in this case to buy out Mr Hai’s share and keep the property as a home for Mrs Bagum, Mr Hafiz and his family.

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