The Four Unities of Joint Tenancy

What are the Four Unities of Joint Tenancy?

Updated on June 25, 2024

The four unities of joint tenancy—unity of interest, title, time, and possession—form the cornerstone of this distinct type of property ownership. Unlike other forms of co-ownership, joint tenancy is characterized by the requirement that all tenants acquire their interest simultaneously, through the same deed, with equal and undivided rights to the entire property.

This unique structure not only fosters a seamless and cohesive ownership experience but also introduces the right of survivorship, wherein the property automatically transfers to the remaining tenants upon the death of one tenant, bypassing probate. Understanding the four unities of joint tenancy is essential for anyone considering this form of ownership, as it has significant legal and practical implications.

Joint Tenancy Requirements

For a joint tenancy to be created, there are four “unities” that must be present. The court in De Witt v. City of San Francisco explains that “For the creation of a joint tenancy, four unities are required, namely: unity of interest, unity of title, unity of time, unity of possession. But the distinguishing incident is a right of survivorship.  (De Witt v. City of San Francisco (1852) 2 Cal. 289, 297 [Internal Citations Omitted]).

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The Four Unities of Joint Tenancy

What is the Right of Survivorship

The right of survivorship means that “[w]hen one joint tenant dies, the entire estate automatically belongs to the other tenant.” (Dieden v. Schmidt (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 645, 650).

The right of survivorship distinguishes a joint tenancy from a tenancy in common. “There is no right of survivorship in a tenancy in common. Instead, each tenant may pass his or her interest in the property to heirs and devisees.” (Dieden v. Schmidt (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 645, 650).

Thus, when deciding whether a joint tenancy or tenancy in common is right for you, you must consider who you intend the interest to go to upon your death.

Also Read: What happens to property after the death of joint tenants?

The Four Unities of Joint Tenancy

  • Unity of Interest: The unity of interest means that the joint tenants have the same interest in the property. If one person owner has a larger ownership percentage than the other owner, then there is not a unity of interest.
  • Unity of Title: Unity of title occurs when the interests of the joint tenants are created by the same instrument such as the same deed.
  • Unity of Time: For there to be a unity of time, the joint tenants must have acquired their interest in the property at the same time.
  • Unity of Possession: The unity of possession means that both tenants have the right to possession of the entire property.

How a Joint Tenancy is Severed

A joint tenancy does not last forever after its creation. If the unities do not continue, then the joint tenancy is severed. As explained by the court in Grothe v. Cortlandt Corp., “If, however, one of the four unities of time, title, interest and possession is destroyed before the death of a joint tenant, the joint tenancy is severed.” (Grothe v. Cortlandt Corp. (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1313, 1317).

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There are certain acts that a joint tenant can take that will sever a joint tenancy. “An estate in joint tenancy can be severed by destroying one or more of the necessary unities, either by operation of law, by death, by voluntary or certain involuntary acts of the joint tenants, or by certain acts or omissions of one joint tenant without the consent of the other.” (Swartzbaugh v. Sampson (1936) 11 Cal.App.2d 451, 454).

If you have any questions about the unities of joint tenancy, including about the unities that are necessary for its formation, please contact the Los Angeles attorneys at Schorr Law today. Call us at (310)-954-1877 or fill our contact form here.  chorr Law’s real estate attorneys have extensive experience with legal disputes involving joint tenancies and severing joint tenancies after a dispute has arisen between the parties.


Which is not a unity required for a joint tenancy?

Unity of value (identical financial value) is not required for a joint tenancy.

What do the four unities mean?

The four unities—interest, title, time, possession—ensure equal rights and simultaneous ownership acquisition.

Which unity is not included in the four unities of joint tenancy?

The four unities do not include unity of value; only interest, title, time, and possession are required.

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What is incompatible with joint tenancy?

Unequal ownership shares and the absence of the right of survivorship are incompatible with joint tenancy.

Can a joint tenancy be converted into a tenancy in common?

Yes, conversion is possible by agreement or unilateral action that disrupts one of the unities.