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Silva v. Fitzpatrick

A-1528-09T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

TENANTS IN COMMON — The allocation of credits and adjustments between co-tenants is governed by basic justice and fairness.

A brother and sister were tenants in common and equal owners of a single family home. The brother used the house during the winter months and the sister used the house primarily in the summer. The brother claimed he had spent money to make renovations and upgrades and believed that when it came time to sell the house he should be reimbursed for those. The sister agreed to sell the house but didn’t think her brother was entitled to a greater portion of the proceeds. According to her, none of the expenditures and improvements had been approved by her. She also sought to be reimbursed for what she paid to maintain the property after her brother vacated the premises.

The lower court carefully weighed all of the equitable considerations and concluded that brother was not entitled to a credit for the property improvements because he failed to show that his expenditures had increased the value of the property. He also hadn’t proven that his sister had agreed to reimburse him for all the improvements. The lower court also found it would be inequitable to impose upon the brother an obligation to contribute to the expenses for the last couple of years. Therefore, according to the lower court, neither party was entitled to a credit.

In the appeal that followed, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s judgment that had permitted either party to purchase the property pursuant to an auction process without any credit or adjustments to either of them. It rejected the brother’s claim that he was entitled to a reimbursement for his expenditures even though he had such an expectation of reimbursement based on the actions and behavior of his sister. The Court held that allocation of credits and adjustments between co-tenants is governed by basic justice and fairness. Thus, the lower court correctly found no proof that the expenditures had increased the value of the property. The lower court’s factual findings and conclusions of law were not so manifestly unsupported by, or inconsistent with, the competent, relevant, and reasonably credible evidence presented to it, so as to offend the interests of justice.


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