Can you split a duplex into two separate properties?


Joe: Tom, great show. I've got a question. A friend of mine and I are considering buying a duplex in our neighborhood.

Attorney Tom Olsen: All right.

Joe: It's a legal two-unit, but we want to buy it. We each want to buy one side but we don't want it to be a partnership. We want to end up each owning our own side of this.

Attorney Tom Olsen: Okay.

Joe: Tom, can you tell me the issues I’m going to encounter doing that?

Attorney Tom Olsen: Joe, some duplexes can be split and have separate legal descriptions with the property line running right down the middle of the duplex. Some duplexes are only one legal description, if you own that lot, you own both sides. So the first question is, Joe, can you split this duplex into two separate legal descriptions, tax ID's and separate properties?

Joe: Okay. And how do I get that answered?

Attorney Tom Olsen: I think you start by talking by the tax collector's office and see if they will be able to split it.

Joe: Okay, I got you.

Attorney Tom Olsen: Joe that might be the best way to do it but beyond that you could own the entire unit by having two names on the deed. I guess that would make you partnerships if you are both owners of it. But Joe, I think that's a good starting point to see if you can literally split it down the middle.

Joe: I appreciate your help and I hope this doesn't end the friendship.

Attorney Tom Olsen: Joe, even if you own this duplex together, you still do share things, for example, you guys have a common roof. You may discover that there's a leak on your side of the roof and you might want to replace the entire roof, and now you got to get your other co-owner to agree to put a new roof on, and so to some degree you are still going to be dealing with each other.

Joe: I got you, now we have discussed those details, but now I know my starting point. How about as far as our local zoning laws like with the city, do I have to get involved with any legality here?

Attorney Tom Olsen: The zoning may be the ones that also give you the permission to divide this duplex into two separate legal descriptions.

Joe: I got you. So who would have the superior decision there though, the county or the city?

Attorney Tom Olsen: If you're within the city, it’s the city.

Joe: Okay, I'll start with them then. I appreciate your help.