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Property – Joint Ownership Disputes and Partitions of Land

Its well understood that the Family Court of Australia has jurisdiction to resolve issues as to Joint ownership of property between couples. It is less well understood that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, pursuant to the Property Law Act (1958), has jurisdiction to resolve issues between joint owners who are not in a relationship.

Joint ownership in property commonly arises amongst business partners who may own a business premises jointly and groups of friends and family involved in property investment. While joint ownership may make commercial sense and allow for the costs of a property to be shared jointly sadly at times parties may differ as to how to best manage the property or they may simply just no longer wish to have much to do with each other.

Part IV of the Property Law Act allows VCAT to intervene upon the application of a party to such a dispute and make various orders in respect to the property including orders to sell the land and distribute the proceeds or even divide the land amongst co-owners.

Essentially if you are a part owner in a property and wish to sell your interest but your co-owners aren’t interested in buying you out at market value you can ask VCAT to force the sale of the property.

Such applications are generally fairly straight forward. There is no requirement for the party seeking such orders to demonstrate some sort of unsatisfactory behaviour on the part of his/her co-owners[1].  Indeed, the requirement to ensure that any relief granted by the Tribunal is just and fair is related to the form of the relief rather than the question of whether relief should be granted.

A party opposing such an application on the grounds the property should simply not be sold will not find favour with the Tribunal. However the Tribunal may consider issues relating to the timing of the sale where there is strong evidence that all parties would be better served were some intervening event, such as the issue of a planning permit, to occur before the sale proceeds.

Generally speaking the Tribunal’s powers in relation to the sale of land are discretionary but the Tribunal clearly favours the general policy of the alienability of interests in property [2] and has a broad discretion to make appropriate orders including:-

  1. Appointing independent agents to value the property and set reserves;
  2. Appointing independent agents to market and sell the property ;
  3. Appointing independent lawyers to manage to the sale of the property and the distribution of proceeds.

If you require assistance with obtaining orders for the sale of a jointly owned property or wish to oppose such an application call Eales and Mackenzie Lawyers for a free 15-minute consultation.

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