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When You Share The Rights To A Property: Understand Waste As A Cause Of Action

"Waste" is a cause of action that you can take against someone for the improper use of a property that they're legally entitled to inhabit. If you own property that somebody else is living on, it's important to understand this concept. Here's what you should know:

When is waste an issue?

The issue of waste frequently comes up between family members due to complicated divisions of property in inheritance. One family member may exert physical control over a piece of property even though several family members share rights to the place. The family member actually living on the property sometimes feels entitled to do things to that property without asking the other owners. 

For example, maybe your mother left you the family home and the 20 acres of woodland that it sits on in her will. However, she also gave your aunt (her older sister) a life estate -- the right to live there and control the property until death. That leaves you with an invested interest in the property that should be protected so that your aunt doesn't ruin it before you fully possess it.

If you and your aunt disagree about what should be done to the property, that can lead to serious conflicts. If you think whatever your aunt is doing is actually hurting the property's value, you might be able to exert a little control over the situation by bringing a lawsuit for waste against her.

What is voluntary waste?

Voluntary waste occurs when the tenant does something on purpose that reduces the value of the property. It can also be something like depleting the value of a property's natural resources.

For example, you might find out that your aunt has been allowing some of the trees on the property to be harvested for their wood. She may not see anything wrong with it, while you see it as a devastating destruction of your property and its resources.

What is permissive waste?

Permissive waste doesn't result from the actions of a tenant so much as they do from inaction. Permissive waste occurs when a tenant fails to take reasonable care of a piece of property.

For example, you find out that your aunt hasn't cleaned the rain gutters out in three years. That inaction has permitted water to back up under the eaves of the house and seep into the attic and has caused other water to pool by the foundation and leak into the basement. The overall value of the property is damaged.

What is ameliorative waste?

Sometimes people technically improve the value of a property but, in doing so, change something about it in a way that makes the other people with ownership interest unhappy.

For example, your aunt may have had a road built through the woods so that all 20 acres are easily accessible by vehicles. While that road may technically add value to the property, you may be distressed about it because it has changed the nature of the place, making it less secluded and pristine.

How can suing for waste help?

You can generally ask the court for several remedies in response to the issue of waste. For example, you may ask the court to issue a preliminary injunction and then sue for a permanent injunction to stop the voluntary waste and stop your aunt from selling off the trees. An injunction is a court order that forbids an action.

You might also ask for damages, which would make your aunt pay for planting new trees to try to restore the property to its earlier state. That would also be the way to make your aunt pay for the water damage in the attic and basement. In cases of ameliorative waste, you may be able to get the court to order the property returned to as close to its original state as possible.

If you're concerned about the condition of a property in which you have an invested interest, talk to a lawyer in your area today. Even though you don't live on the property or have the sole interest in it, the laws surrounding waste may give you some control.