I own a property jointly but the joint owner is not contributing to repairs and maintenance of the property. As a result, the burden is on me to spend my time, energy and money. The house is falling apart and depreciating in value substantially. Please explain the liabilities of a joint owner and the legal recourse.

-Rohit Dalvi

The liabilities of a joint or co-owner have not been specified in the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, or in any other statute. The existence of such liabilities would depend on whether there is a written contract between the joint owners or co-owners.

If there is a written contract between you and the other joint owner, whereby both of you have agreed to contribute equally to the repairs and maintenance or where you have agreed to contribute a particular percentage each or where a sale deed has been executed recording the liabilities of the joint owners while purchasing the house, you could file a civil suit under the Civil Procedure Code,1908, and Indian Contract Act, 1872, for breach of contract by the other joint owner if he/she has failed to contribute or perform his obligations as per the contract.

In one judgement, the high court of Karnataka observed: “Law does not favour a co-owner who effects improvements on his own accord without the consent of the other co-owners to get any compensation from the other co-owners when they claim their share by partition. A co-owner, however, can compel the other co-owners to contribute to the expenses of improvements in the following cases, viz. (a) if there is an express contract for such contribution; or (b) if the money was spent on the express or implied request of other co-owners; or (c) if he comes under section 70 of the Contract Act."

If there is no written contract between you and the joint owner or if he/she had not specifically agreed to you carrying out the repairs, then we would need to see if the provisions of section 70 of the Indian Contract Act would be applicable to you. This section inter alia states if a person lawfully does anything for another person without intending to do so gratuitously or free of charge and such other person enjoys the benefit thereof, the latter is bound to make compensation to the former in respect of, or to restore, the thing so done or delivered.

The three essential conditions for invoking section 70 are the act done shall be done lawfully; the act must be done without the intention to do so gratuitously; and the person for whom the act is done enjoys the benefit thereof. In your case, all three conditions have been satisfied. The act done by you is lawful, the act has not been done with an intention to do so gratuitously and the other joint owner of the house is enjoying the benefits of your acts.

You could file a civil suit under the Civil Procedure Code and the Indian Contract Act for compensation as the act of repairing and maintaining the property is not a gratuitous act done by you.

Queries and views at mintmoney@livemint.com