I bought a house ten years ago with a friend and I put down the 20% deposit. We have been fighting for years and recently decided to sell the house.

We bought the house as joint tenants with right of survivorship. How do we split the profits in California?

I want a return on the opportunity cost of investing the deposit. I also paid for all the improvements on the house over the years. We have split the mortgage evenly.

2 Answers 2


It's not helpful for me to tell you that you should have considered this 10 years ago. But I say this as a warning to any reader who is planning to buy a house jointly. You need to have an agreement in advance to avoid this kind of issue in the future.

For you - you should get your 20% back, off the top, of course. The real question is - what return? (a) The same rate as the mortgage (b) the same percent the property grew in value over the ten years (c) other.

The improvements are similar but another issue to be resolved. Hopefully, you have contemporaneous records.

In response to OP's comment regarding Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS) - this provision really is important on the death of one owner. The other portion (say half) of the property passes to you without going through probate. It doesn't specifically address your two issues, the downpayment and the upgrades.

I offered 3 choices of how to determine a growth number. JTWROS doesn't address which method to use. In fact, it deems that you own the property equally. So the partner can claim that your $10K 'extra' deposit was a gift, under the limit at the time, and they still own the full 50%. I am back to "without an agreement you need to sit down calmly and discuss the dissolution of this partnership."

  • So, are you saying that the joint tenants with rights of survivorship doesn't hold precedent over the split if I can show the paperwork that proves I paid the deposit and for the improvements that helped to increase the value of the property?
    – June Ryan
    May 23, 2015 at 14:02
  • 1
    I updated my answer in response. Yes, you may wind up with just 50% if you have no proof the deposit wasn't a gift. May 23, 2015 at 15:03

It's pretty simple. The law (in general) isn't going to tell you how to split profits, that is an agreement between the two of you.

1) If you have a contract stating how to calculate how to split the profits, then things are pretty simple. I'm assuming you don't.

2) You have to negotiate the profit with the other party and live with the agreement; or

3) If you can't come to an agreement hire an arbitrator; or sue them for the extra amount you think you are owed. Be prepared to provide documentation of all the money you put into the houses and who paid what.

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