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Disputes over the joint ownership of property is commonplace and can arise in a number of scenarios.  The most common scenario for disputes about the joint ownership of property is in the case of unmarried cohabiting couples who decide to purchase a home together. Other examples may include property purchased for investment purposes or inherited property.  

Unfortunately, relationships can and often do break down.  When this happens, a dispute can arise between the parties in relation to the occupation, ownership and sale of the property.

The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (“TOLATA”) can assist parties who find themselves in dispute.  This act enables parties to apply to the court to determine who is entitled to occupy the property and the nature and extent of the parties’ respective interests in the property.  The act also enables the court to order the sale of the property and to determine the mechanics of the sale.

Often the property subject to the dispute will be held in joint names.  If there is an express declaration of trust in place which sets out the parties respective shares in the property, then this can make resolution of any dispute much more straightforward.  It may be, however, that there is no clear declaration of the parties’ intentions or one party may claim a greater share of the property on the basis that they have made greater financial contributions.

Frequently, however, a property may be held in the sole name of one cohabitee, with no express declaration of trust.  In this case the unregistered cohabitee may still be able to establish an interest in the property, if it can be shown that the parties shared a common intention that the property would be jointly owned.

When disputes of this nature arise, it is essential to carefully consider the evidence of the parties common intentions in order to maximize the prospects of achieving the right outcome for the client.

Our Dispute Resolution team have extensive experience in both pursuing and defending TOLATA claims.  We will aim to identify your goals and the most effective ways of achieving your aims at the outset of your case.   We will try to resolve your case without the need for court proceedings wherever possible and we are skilled in all forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (including mediation).

Can I recover my legal costs if my claim succeeds?

Should a claimant succeed at a final court hearing, the general position is that the losing party is responsible for the payment of the legal costs of the winning party.

Can the court order a sale of a property?

Yes. The court has a wide range of powers available to it, including the power to compel a property to be sold where it considers this appropriate.

What are the common types of application made under TOLATA?

The two main types of dispute in TOLATA applications relate to: -

  • Who is entitled to occupy a property, and
  • The nature and extent of the ownership of a property
What are the first steps in a TOLATA claim?

As in any dispute, the first step is to see if the matter is capable of resolution by informal means such as negotiation or alternative dispute resolution such as mediation.  If a resolution of the dispute is not reached, then typically TOLATA claims are issued in the County Court.

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