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Swartzbaugh v. Sampson

    Brief Fact Summary. Joint tenant leased property held in joint tenancy without the consent of other joint tenant who initiated suit to cancel the lease.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A joint tenant can lease or license anything less or equal to his rights in the joint tenancy property.

    Facts. The defendant, Mr. Swartzbaugh and plaintiff, Mrs. Swartzbaugh, are married and owned as joint tenants, 60 acres of land. In 1933, defendant Sampson negotiated with the Swartzbaughs to lease a portion of the land for a boxing pavilion. Mrs. Swartzbaugh objected to the lease and Sampson knew she would not agree. Mr. Swartzbaugh and Sampson signed a lease and Sampson proceeded to take exclusive possession of the leased property by erecting and operating a boxing pavilion. Mrs. Swartzbaugh initiated this action to cancel the lease. The trial court granted a nonsuit to the defendant and the plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Can one joint tenant who has not joined in the leases executed by her cotenant and another maintain an action to cancel the leases where the lessee is in exclusive possession of the leased property?

    Held. No, affirmed.
    An estate in joint tenancy can be severed by destroying one or more of the necessary unities (time, title, possession and interest) by operation of law, death, omissions, voluntary or involuntary acts of the joint tenants.
    Ordinarily, one joint tenant out of possession cannot recover exclusive possession of joint property from his cotenant, but can recover the right to be let into joint possession.
    Ordinarily one joint tenant cannot maintain an action against his cotenant for rent for occupancy of the property or for profits derived from his own labor. He may compel the tenant in possession to account for rents collected from third parties.
    The act of one joint tenant without express or implied authority from or the consent of his cotenant cannot bind or prejudicially affect the rights of the latter. However, a joint tenant may be lease or license confer upon another the right to occupy and use the property of the cotenancy as fully as the lessor/licensor might have done.

    Discussion. The court discussed several ways a cotenant can lease or license property held in joint tenancy with another. The focus on the discussion was whether the lease or license infringed on the rights of the other cotenant in the joint tenancy. This discussion is premised on the principal that a cotenant may only grant rights that he himself possesses and may not grant rights in the property greater than what he has. The Supreme Court of California declined to hear this action.


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