I need to unilaterally change a house's ownership from "joint tenants" to "tenants in common" without the involvement of the other owners. I don't trust the other owners anymore! (In New Jersey, if it matters.)

From my research, I believe I should write a deed to transfer my share to myself. But I'm reading some contradictory info:

Question #1: Some sites say I can definitely do this "unilaterally and without the knowledge or consent of the co-tenant(s)" (link), but others say "all current owners should sign the deed" (link -- click on question mark next to "Choose one"). Which is it?

Question #2: Some say "use a quitclaim deed to...change the way owners hold title to the property" (link), but others either say don't use quit claim deeds (link, link) or say "we generally recommend the Warranty Deed when transferring property to yourself, your trust, or your own company; because we want to make sure that the Title Policy and all of its benefits transfer to the Grantee of your deed" (link).

Question #3: If I should never use the "Nolo" link 2 to do this change, then is there any do-it-yourself form/method that I can use? (I cannot afford a lawyer for this task.)

UPDATE: Note to respondents that attempt to claim this isn't legal in the USA: It's definitely legal in New York at least. See NY Code - Section 240-C: Joint tenancy severance: "1. In addition to any other means by which a joint tenancy with right of survivorship may be severed, a joint tenant may unilaterally sever a joint tenancy in real property without consent of any non-severing joint tenant or tenants by: ... (b) Execution of a written instrument that evidences the intent to sever the joint tenancy, including a deed that names the severing tenant as the direct grantee of the severing tenant's interest."

Thus, if you claim this isn't allowed in the USA, then you are incorrect. If you claim this isn't allowed in New Jersey specifically, then please provide some evidence if you have it (e.g. court cases deciding against this type of action), instead of making an unsupported claim. Thanks.

  • 3
    Even if it is possible to do it yourself, this is not the kind of thing that will go over well with your partners. So you can pay for a lawyer to do this task now, or you can pay for one later, when your partners sue you. Later is probably going to cost you more.
    – Mohair
    Oct 29, 2015 at 17:55
  • Question #2 isn't actually a question, is it?
    – jimsug
    Oct 31, 2015 at 2:53
  • @jimsug The question (implied) is which type of deed is best for this case.
    – walrus
    Oct 31, 2015 at 5:05
  • Okay, that wasn't very clear at all. But generally, I'd say that you should ask unrelated questions (and by this, I mean questions whose answers aren't consequentially reliant on each other) separately, as per the MSE FAQ - as you've seen, asking multiple questions in one post leaves you with the risk of receiving an incomplete answer, at least from your point of view. At least the latter two questions seem to be separate from the former, if not from each other. It's your choice, though.
    – jimsug
    Oct 31, 2015 at 5:16
  • @jimsug Thanks. Will keep that in mind in the future.
    – walrus
    Oct 31, 2015 at 7:53

1 Answer 1


Joint tenant (with rights of survivorship) is a HIGHER level of ownership than "tenants in common."

A Tenant in Common's survivor rights in a property flow to her heirs, not the co-owner. A Joint Tenant's survivor rights flow to the joint owner/tenant.

In the past, a joint tenancy was severable only by a court, or by explicit agreement of all joint tenants, because is a diminishing of the other tenant's rights, and thus wasn't able to be done unilaterally. Today, however, this is no longer the case, and in virtually all US jurisdictions a Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship can be severed by means of a sale by one of the tenants to a third party straw-man, who then typically turns around and re-deeds the property back to the severing tenant.

In some jurisdictions, they've dispensed with the necessity for a straw-man and allow a tenant to unilaterally (i.e. without consent of the other joint tenants) "sell their share back to themselves." In most cases that deed conveying the sale must be recorded, whether direct or third-party. Also in some jurisdictions, there does still exist a "tenency in the entirety" a deed type that is a bit of an anachronism, which prevents unilaterally severing the joint tenancy.

  • You have stated things that I already knew before writing my question post. Your post doesn't actually answer any of my Questions #1, #2, or #3. (It addresses Question #1 only generally, but not with respect to New Jersey. And it doesn't address Questions #2 and #3 at all.)
    – walrus
    Oct 30, 2015 at 19:18
  • 1
    @walrus...perhaps you should consult a legal professional who practices real estate law in NJ? This site isn't for legal advice.
    – dwoz
    Oct 30, 2015 at 19:20
  • Given that this is LAW.stackexchange I was hoping to get some law answers. (Besides, I have no money for lawyers.)
    – walrus
    Oct 30, 2015 at 19:26
  • As to"what deed type" should you write to unilaterally downshift a Joint Tenant deed to a Tenant In Common deed: You should use the form of deed that you were granted in the original purchase. i.e. if you received a quitclaim from the original seller, then you should write a quitclaim back to yourself. If that original deed to you was a warranty deed, then you should also do a warranty deed. The concept here is that you cannot convey a greater interest in a property than what you yourself have. If you downgrade warranty covenants to a quitclaim, you can never re-convey a warranty deed.
    – dwoz
    Oct 30, 2015 at 19:30

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