Sisters fight over house
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Dear Mrs Macaulay,

I need your expert advice regarding a house which I bought with a family member back in 2008. My older sister approached me back then to purchase a house through the National Housing Trust (NHT) with her. I immediately said no. She returned days later with the same proposal and convinced me that it would be good as it would be the same amount I was paying for rent. My mother even got involved and pushed for me to sign the documents.

We signed as joint tenancy. At the time she was working out of the parish (Lucea) from where the house was located. I was working in the same parish where the house is (St James). At the time when the mortgage payments were to start I had to move out of my rental apartment and into the house. My sister got upset that I wanted to move into the house. She even went as far as saying she wasn't planning on living there, but was considering renting it to pay the mortgage.

My sister and I have not had a good relationship since purchasing the house together. I had a child in 2011, and after arguments upon arguments, I moved out of the house in 2012 for peace of mind. I moved back into the house around 2019. At that point my sister had moved to Kingston for work. She had rented my room to someone and I told her that I wanted to move back to the house. I have two children now.

We are at a point where our relationship is still on rocky grounds. My two kids live in one bedroom with me and my sister has locked her room and stays in Kingston for work. She visits St James once a month. She does not stay at the house, she stays with our mother. Initially, I decided that I would add two rooms at the back of the house. However, I decided against this as things had reached a state where we were not even speaking to each other. I do not want my children in this unhealthy environment.

Therefore I told my sister that it's time we sell the house and go our separate ways. I even told her of a new development where she can purchase her own home and rent it to pay the mortgage. She said our house is in a good area and she does not want to live anywhere else. In addition, she said it would cost her too much to buy another house. No one in the family can solve this for us. My sister told me that she does not want to own the house with me. Her solution is that I tell NHT that I don't want the house and she will pay my part of the mortgage.

I told her it would be wrong for her to ask me to give her my NHT benefits. She is still sticking to her solution of taking over my mortgage. What are my options to get out of this situation?

I understand from your letter that you wish to extract yourself without the loss of your interest or the value of your interest in the premises. I assume that you did not have your own attorney-at-law to advise and watch out for your own interests in the purchase and registration of your interests on the registered title. You did not say how old you both were at the time of the purchase and registration on the title. I, however, get the impression that you were both single at the time and without spouses and/or children. You, however, ended up with two children and I assume that your sister did not, and is still single. I ask, therefore, why then did you both come to be registered as joint tenants instead of as tenants-in-common?

It is clear that your instinctive refusal to join in the purchase was the correct one and that you both did not have an open and detailed discussion about the purpose and plans for the use of the premises before the purchase. You both should have even discussed what you both would do if one or both got married, or one or both had a child or children. You seem to have believed it was for you both to occupy and use the premises as home, but it was when you had to leave your apartment and wanted to move into the property that your sister told you otherwise.

Your sister is clearly immovable and she has told you she no longer wishes to own the premises with you — she who inveigled you to join in the purchase! Then she has disingenuously suggested that you should inform NHT that you do not want the house, which would lead her to be the sole owner of the premises. You must understand that if you agree with her suggestion, you would not only be giving her your NHT benefits, but all your legal and beneficial interests in the property (from your NHT benefits, your payments for the purchase costs, deposit and purchase price and your payments towards the mortgage).

So what can you do or what are your options?

Well, my dear, you should first of all get your own lawyer to act for you and protect and obtain all your entitlements in the property. You cannot do what is necessary by yourself as it will be technical and legal. You therefore need a lawyer to work on your behalf.

You need to sever the joint tenancy and you need not have your sister's consent or agreement. In fact, from both of your decisions, you have in fact severed the joint tenancy, but not in law.

You have to do it legally and your lawyer can do that for you and then you and your sister would be tenants-in-common, having the same percentage of 50/50 in the premises and in its net proceeds of sale. If necessary, your lawyer could make an application to the court to sever the joint tenancy, make a declaration of your respective percentages of interest, for an order for the sale of the property, and for the division of the net proceeds to you and your sister, or that your sister is given the option to purchase your share and to sign the agreement for sale and purchase within a specific number of days, and the deed of transfer. The caveat can be that if she fails to complete the purchase within the ordered time period, that the premise be sold on the open market, and that in the event that your sister refuses to sign any of the necessary documents to effect and complete the sale, that it be ordered that the registrar of the Supreme Court sign them to complete the transaction. Then you'd seek for orders to be made for all necessary deductions for payments on a sale and transfer, legal and government taxes and stamp duty and registration fees, and then for the net proceeds to be divided between you and your sister as declared.

You must do all that you should to protect and to obtain your entitlements for you and your children. No one can be forced to continue owning a property which they wish to sell unless a court orders this. But you will be seeking the orders of the court to free you from a trap, and you have the right to do this and not to be bullied to give up your just entitlement to your share of the property and/or of its value.

Please do as I have suggested. Please get yourself a lawyer and proceed to do what is right and in yours and your children's interests.

I wish you and your children a more secure and brighter future.

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.

DISCLAIMER:

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.

Margarette MACAULAY

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