Joint owners own undivided shares in the property which they own jointly. Consequently, the joint owners cannot divide the joint property while the joint ownership remains in existence, and a joint owner also cannot alienate the property or a part thereof without the consent of the other joint owner. The rights in respect of the joint property need to be exercised jointly by the owners thereof.
Ways in which joint ownership can arise:
Joint ownership can come into existence by way of an inheritance in which an indivisible property is left to more than one person in indivisible shares; by way of a marriage in community of property, by the mixture of movable property in such a way that it forms a new movable item or by way of an agreement in terms of which the parties agree to jointly buy a property and that both will have equal indivisible shares in the property.
Division of joint property:
Any joint owner can claim the division of the joint property according to that joint owner’s share in the property. It is a requirement for the division of the joint property that the parties need to try to divide the property among themselves first, before approaching the Court for an action to divide the property, which action is called the actio communi dividendo.
The underlying principle of the actio communi dividendo is that no co-owner is normally obliged to remain such against his will. If there is a refusal on the part of one of the co-owners to divide, then the other co-owner can go to Court and ask the Court to order the other to partition. The Court has a wide discretion in making a division of the joint property, which is similar to the discretion which a court has in respect of the mode of distribution of partnership assets among partners.
The Court may award the joint property to one of the owners provided that he/she compensate the other co-owner, or cause the joint property to be put up to auction and the proceeds divided among the co-owners. Where there is no agreement between the parties as to how the joint assets are to be divided a liquidator is ordinarily appointed, and he can then sell the assets and divide the proceeds if it is not possible to divide the assets between the parties. If the immediate division of the joint property will be detrimental to the parties, the Court can order in certain cases that the division or the sale of the property be postponed for a period.
It is beneficial that there exist means to divide assets which are jointly owned by parties, who no longer wish to be co-owners, but who cannot reach an agreement on the division of the assets. Without such action, people might be stuck with a property which they derive no benefit from because it is in the possession of the other co-owner, who refuse to sell the property.