Johnson and Plaintiff owned property as joint tenants. Without Plaintiff’s knowledge, Johnson leased the property to defendant with an option for purchase. Johnson died shortly thereafter. Upon death, Plaintiff, believing to have been a joint tenant, then sought sole ownership of the property. Plaintiff sued defendant to have his lease agreement invalidated and lost at trial.
A joint interest is one owned by two or more persons in equal shares, by a title created by a single will or transfer, when expressly declared in the will or transfer to be a joint tenancy.”
- Whether when a joint tenant leases his interest in the joint tenancy property to a third person for a term of years, and dies during that term, the lease does not sever the joint tenancy, but expires upon the death of the lessor joint tenant.
- Whether plaintiff may receive sole ownership of the property “unencumbered by the lease.”
- Yes. The stated rule “does not abrogate the common law rule that four unities are essential to an estate in joint tenancy: unity of interest, unity of time, unity of title, and unity of possession.” “It is our opinion that a lease is not so inherently inconsistent with joint tenancy as to create a severance, either temporary or permanent.” Johnson extinguished the joint tenancy through his own actions; and therefore the tenancy is no longer a joint one. Johnson had a right to alienate his interest during his lifetime under common law. A joint tenancy is created only with specific intent. Severing such a joint tenancy would should require more than a unilateral lease by one of the joint tenants, therefore.
- Yes. “By the very nature of joint tenancy … the interest of the nonsurviving joint tenant extinguishes upon his death.” The lease valid only where the interest of the lessor is valid. Therefore, the lease expires upon Johnson’s death. “The right of survivorship is the chief characteristic that distinguishes a joint tenancy from other interest in property.” The correct rule is that a joint tenant may certainly lease during his lifetime, but the lease is thereafter terminated when the lessor joint tenant dies. Not doing so would contravene the other joint tenant’s right to survivorship in executing the joint tenant agreement in the first place.