Questions and Answers with Steve Whitmore, Senior Real Estate Attorney, Robinson & Henry

When you bought property with your partner, your friend, your sibling, you may have thought you’d always get along, have the same ideas about how the property should be used, you name it. What happens when something changes, either between you and your co-owner or with the property itself? We sat down with Steven Whitmore, Senior Attorney at Robinson & Henry, to find out more about your legal recourse when disputes arise between you and the person with whom you own property.

Q: What are the most common things that happens to give rise to a property dispute?

Usually the question I get is, “Who owns this property?” Probate disputes (about property that is being managed in a special court because of the death of its owner) are also common, as are alleged equitable interests (interests that derive from equity in a piece of property), failure of deeds or other conveyance documents.

Q: What is adverse possession and how does it work?

Adverse possession is defined as “when an individual gains legal rights by the actual, non-permissive, exclusive, adverse, continuous, open and notorious use of the land for a number of years.”

More often than not, these claims arise when adjacent owners, neighbors, don’t agree on a property line. There has been a fence on my property for x years. Well, I’ve acquired it by adverse possession. When you know it’s not your own and you’re intentionally acquiring it by their acquiescence. The “adverse” element is the most hotly-contested piece.

Q: How can I make sure that nobody else has any rights to the land that I own or plan to buy?

A Colorado action to quiet title completely resolves any competing claims for a piece of property and is a final determination as to ownership. Wants to be as comprehensive as possible and hand down as broad relief as possible. When looking into a quiet title action, the court seeks to determine 1) who has interests, 2) how those interests derive, and 3) how those should interests be represented in the court order. If you pursue this action with your attorney, be sure to join anyone who may claim or have an interest in the property.

Q: If I put more money into a property I co-own than the other owner, am I entitled to more money if we have to go to court to split the proceeds?

You’re referring to something called a partition action. Partition actions arise when multiple individuals who own the same piece of land reach an irreconcilable difference regarding the use of the land. If the parties cannot resolve their dispute directly, with the assistance of attorneys or others or through a form of alternative dispute resolution, the parties can apply to a court to determine their rights and obligations. The costs are usually allocated in proportion to the ownership interests, but a judge may order differently if the judge feels that a different allocation is more equitable. If you paid to improve the property without the consent of the other owner, you may not be entitled to reimbursement. However, in a partition action, the improving owner likely will be entitled to an increase in proceeds from sale resulting from the improvements. If you put $50,000 down, made every mortgage payment, made improvements to the property, and paid the taxes, the judge may give you something for your trouble.

Q: My partner and I are arguing constantly and have decided to close our business. How do I get her off the title to the property?

My first question in these cases is can you buy her out? Often the answer is, “Yes, but we can’t agree on a price.” In that case, a judge will have to tell you [the price]. The court will make you sell the property and determine each of your equitable interests (interests derived from your equity in the property).

Attorney Steve WhitmoreFor more information from our interview with Steve Whitmore, including specific real estate issues and how to manage them, here’s a link to our guide, Resolving your Colorado Property Ownership Dispute: Who Owns This Place Anyway?

If you have questions about real estate and how the law applies to you, consult an expert like Steve, or another experienced attorney on our team. Call (303) 688-0944 to set up a free initial consultation.