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Help! My brother changed the locks at the home our late parents gave to both of us and has shut me out

Over 20 years ago, my parents gave their home to both me and my brother and the title deeds were put into both our names.

My mother has now passed away and my father is deceased. My question is what happens to the home now?

As the deeds are in my brother’s and my name, what happens with the selling of the property? Do we both have equal rights to agree on decisions to be made over the property?

Also, do we both have equal rights to attend the property, as my brother has changed the locks to the doors, so blocking me being able to gain access? Does the property not belong to us both as the deeds are in our joint names?

Locks changed: Do you have equal right of entry as joint owner of a property? (Stock image)

Michael Prendergast, head of private client at Dickinson Parker Hill Solicitors, replies: When your parents transferred the property to you, they will likely have executed a deed to transfer ownership from them to you and your brother.

The transfer will have been recorded at HM Land Registry, which if done correctly, should show that you and your brother are the joint owners of the property.

The starting point for any property dispute is to examine the nature of the joint ownership. You will need to establish whether you and your brother own the property as ‘joint tenants’ or as ‘tenants in common’. These are the two methods of joint ownership available under English law.

If you own the property as joint tenants, you and your brother have equal rights to the whole property.

If you own the property as tenants in common, then you can each own different proportions of the property though it is most common for an equal split when parents are gifting a property to children.

Michael Prendergast: ‘Your brother may be more likely to listen to reason if he hears it coming from his solicitor rather than his sister’

The act of gifting a property throws up many other issues relating to inheritance tax, capital gains tax and care home fee planning which may have a bearing on the dispute between you and your brother.

What you can do about your brother changing the locks

Joint owners of a property have rights of access and can occupy/enter the property if they wish.

Therefore, one joint owner cannot unilaterally change the locks restricting the access of other joint owners without the consent of the other joint owners.

By changing the locks, your brother has acted incorrectly as you have the right, as he does, to access the property. By restricting your access he is potentially leaving himself open to litigation that could have cost implications for him.

In practical terms, the easiest thing is to see if he is agreeable to giving you a set of new keys so you have access.

If that fails, you will likely need to instruct a solicitor to represent you to point out to your brother his mistake. If all else fails, your solicitor can initiate court proceedings for you to gain access to the property.

What to do if you and your brother disagree about selling the property

When multiple parties own a property together a ‘Trust of Land’ is created. This is derived from the Trusts of Land Appointment of Trustees Act 1996.

As a result, any joint owner can make an application to court for the property to be sold. However there is no guarantee that the court would make such an order and these types of proceedings can be lengthy and expensive.

Applications to court for an order for sale are becoming more common as co-ownership disputes, especially with co-habiting unmarried couples, become more frequent.

If you wanted to sell the property and your brother is unwilling or is frustrating any potential sale then this is the likely course of action you would follow.

It may be that you or your brother would want to buy out the other. If so then the court would allow for this and give plenty of time for funds to be put in place.

If no agreement can be reached the court can make an order for sale and such orders can go into great detail such as specifying which estate agent should be instructed, access to the property etc.

To avoid potentially lengthy and expensive litigation, if you and your brother cannot agree, then the best solution would be for each of you to instruct your own solicitors and try to negotiate a way forward between yourselves without having to revert to court proceedings.

Having a professional objective solicitor acting on your behalf will help you negotiate with your brother and take the emotion out of the situation.

Equally, your brother may be more likely to listen to reason if he hears it coming from his solicitor rather than his sister.