Laws of Eve | What does joint ownership of property mean?
One of the most problematic legal issues surrounds claims involving the interests of parties in jointly owned properties. In fact, it would seem that no matter how many matters are tried in this area, doubts remain, and the decision of the Privy Council in the case of Marr v Collie  UKPC 17 is an attempt to make things clear.
The case concerns two men who were involved in a personal relationship between 1991 and 2008. During that time, they acquired several properties together and, when the relationship ended, the parties could not agree on the ownership of the properties or how they could be disposed of.
There was dispute as to the superior financial contribution made by one of the parties towards the purchase of the properties versus the promised financial contribution of the other ,and an alleged agreement that the said party had agreed to undertake renovation and maintenance works.
At the trial, Mr Marr succeeded. It was held that he was the sole legal and beneficial owner of the properties although Mr Collie's name appeared on the titles. The judge concluded that the presumption that the person who purchased the property was the beneficial owner unless the other co-owner proved that there was an outright gift to him. On appeal, Mr Collie succeeded in part, and Mr Marr appealed to the Privy Council.
Although the case was remitted for hearing before the Supreme Court, some important points were made in the judgment to clarify the approach to matters of this kind.
Two different presumptions could arise where parties are joint legal owners of property. The first is that, where there is joint legal ownership of property, there is also joint beneficial ownership in respect of domestic as well as commercial property purchased by a couple in an enterprise reflecting their joint commercial, as well as their personal, commitment. The second is that the financial contributor is the sole beneficial owner.
The resolution of the issue does not depend on which presumption will prevail, unless there is no evidence from which the parties' intentions can be identified.
Efforts must be made to ascertain the parties' intentions at the time the property was purchased. Given the fact that parties' initial intentions can change, their conduct during the years they dealt with the property will also be relevant.
It may become necessary for an account to be taken of the contributions made by the parties towards the acquisition of the various properties.
Ultimately, the fact that someone's name appears on a certificate of title as a co-owner of that property does not automatically mean that the parties have equal beneficial interests in the property. The true answer will lie in the common intentions of the parties.