Resolving Co-ownership Disputes: An Introduction to TOLATA Claims and Expert Legal Advice

Navigating the complexities of shared property ownership can be a daunting task, especially when disputes arise between co-owners. Whether it’s a couple facing the aftermath of a relationship breakdown or individuals grappling with conflicting claims to a jointly owned property, the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA) serves as a crucial legal framework for resolving such disputes.

In this guide, we delve into the intricacies of TOLATA claims, offering insights into what they entail, how they’re initiated, and what to expect throughout the process. Whether you’re considering making a claim, defending against one, or seeking an amicable resolution, understanding your rights and options under TOLATA is essential.

What is a TOLATA claim?

If you are cohabiting together in a property, and a dispute arises as to the ownership of or beneficial interests/shares in the property or who should remain in a property if you no longer intend to live together, you may be able to make a claim under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA).

Most commonly, this type of claim is brought by unmarried couples cohabiting together, but it is not limited to these types of parties. If you have a financial interest in the property, you may also be able to make a TOLATA Claim. Some examples include but are not limited to:

  • Cohabiting unmarried couples who own property together and are unable to agree on whether to sell the property
  • Where a cohabiting unmarried couple decide to separate, and they are unsure as to who should keep the house or how to share the proceeds of sale
  • Where the sole owner of the property wishes to sell the property, against the wishes of another who has been living with them at the property for many years

This Act gives the Court the power to make decisions and declarations as to the extent of parties’ ownership of the property as well as who should remain in the property, and whether a person has an interest in the property at all.

The Court can order the sale of the property and declare the extent of the parties’ beneficial shares in the property however, it is important to note the court cannot adjust the proportions in which property is held.

How do you make a claim?

To make a claim, firstly a letter of claim will need to be sent out to the opposing party. This important letter sets out your position and why you believe you have a beneficial interest[1] in the property e.g. financial contributions towards the deposit/mortgage or the maintenance of the property, or perhaps a common intention trust[2] at the time of purchase. They will then need to respond.

If parties cannot reach a mutually acceptable agreement, proceedings will be initiated, but parties are encouraged to continue settlement efforts. Early settlement is preferred to avoid high trial costs. Mediation may be necessary to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached and the claim goes to trial, the Court will make a decision.

These claims are subject to the Civil Procedure Rules, and are brought in either the County Court or the High Court.

How long does it take to make a claim?

Every case is different, so the time it takes to reach a resolution can vary depending on the specifics of your situation. A key factor in the process is how willing each party is to negotiate and reach a mutually beneficial settlement.

Additionally, the complexity of the particular matter, especially when the property is solely in one party’s name, can also impact the timeline for resolution.

In some instances, cases can be resolved in a matter of months where disputes can be resolved via solicitor negotiation and correspondence or mediation. However, if a case goes to trial, it is likely that it might take over a year to resolve.

How can we help?

At Aristone, our expert solicitors, led by Patrick Smith with over 40+ years of experience in matters like this, can help you make a TOLATA claim, defend a TOLATA claim, or settle your property dispute outside of court proceedings.

Reach out to us today at the following numbers to connect with a member of our team:

•          Luton, dial +441582 383 888.

•          London, dial +442034 393 888.

•          St Albans, dial +441727 519 888.

Alternatively, if you’re accessing this information outside our business hours (9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, excluding bank holidays) or prefer to put your request in writing, please use our contact form. We’ll promptly respond within 1 working day.

Other related blogs

The Myth of ‘Common Law Marriage’

How to Maximise Legal Protection? Cohabitation Agreements in England and Wales

[1] Beneficial Interest: This refers to the share or portion of ownership someone has in a property, even if their name is not on the legal documents like the deed or title. It’s like having a stake in the property’s value or equity, which could come from contributing to the purchase price, paying the mortgage, or investing in improvements.

[2] Common Intention Trust: This is a legal concept that acknowledges an agreement or understanding between people who own property together, even if it’s not formally documented. It means that despite what’s written on the ownership papers, there was a mutual agreement or understanding about how the property would be shared or used. For example, if a couple buys a house together but only one person’s name is on the deed, a common intention trust might recognise that they both intended to own and benefit from the property equally.

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