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Li v. Chen

2005 WL 1606058 (N.J. Super. Ch. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

TENANTS IN COMMON; APPORTIONMENT OF OWNERSHIP—Where a deed names two grantees and is silent as to the percentage of individual ownership, there is a rebuttable presumption that the grantees take title as tenants in common and share ownership equally.

A man and woman had two children, but never married. The couple wanted to live together to raise the children. To further this goal, the woman and man’s mother decided to purchase property together. The mother paid twenty percent of the down payment for the property. The woman owned a company, which paid the remaining eighty percent of the down payment. The woman then obtained a mortgage for the property and the mother’s name was placed on the mortgage documents. The woman and mother were named grantees on the deed to the property. The deed was silent as to parties’ percentage interest in the property. After the closing, the woman, man, and mother lived on the property until the mother moved to China. The property was then sold. The woman filed a motion seeking to have the court equitably apportion ownership in the property in order to divide the sale proceeds. The woman asserted that although both her and the mother’s names were on the deed, the mother had no ownership interest in the property because she contributed a small percentage of the purchase price. The woman contended that she and her company should be deemed the sole owners of the property because they paid the majority of the down payment on the property, and she was solely responsible for the mortgage and maintenance payments. She also asserted that the mother lived on the property for only two months before moving to China. She requested that the court either quiet title to the property or partition the property so that she would receive the total proceeds from the sale of the home. She also requested that the court amend the complaint to add her company as a plaintiff in the action. In response, the mother argued that her interest in the property should not be divested because she contributed funds towards the down payment for the home, and used her good credit history to allow the woman to obtain the mortgage for the property. She also asserted that she and the woman lived in the home as tenants in common. She further requested that the court deny the woman’s request to amend the complaint to add the woman’s company as a plaintiff.

The court denied the woman’s motion in its entirety. It held that when determining a party’s interest in a property, a court must look to the deed because the terms of the deed control a party’s interest. It further held that where a deed names two grantees and is silent as to the percentage of individual ownership, there is a rebuttable presumption that the grantees take title as tenants in common and share ownership equally. In this case, the deed named both the woman and the man’s mother as grantees, but did not indicate any form of percentage ownership. As a result, the court concluded that the woman and mother were tenants in common, and therefore there was a rebuttable presumption that the parties shared a one-half interest in the property, regardless of the mother’s actual contribution to the property. The court held that the woman failed to provide any evidence to rebut this presumption. It found that as tenants in common, the woman was entitled to be reimbursement from the mother for funds expended on the mortgage and maintenance of the property. It further held that the complaint could not be amended to add the woman’s company as a plaintiff because the company had no ownership interest in the property because it was not named as a grantee in the deed.


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