This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
Kirt Thomas Abraham,
Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
Clearwater County District Court
File No. C5-03-116
James Fischer, Post Office Box 644, Crookston, MN 56717 (for respondent)
Richard C. Mollin, 118 Johnson Avenue North, Fosston, MN 56542 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge
On appeal in this real-property dispute, appellant-lessee argues that the district court erred in ruling against her in an eviction action because she had the consent of one of two joint tenants to continue leasing under an oral rental agreement. Because one joint tenant can evict a lessee from co-owned property without the other joint tenant’s consent, we affirm the district court.
The undisputed facts show that respondent Kirt Abraham and his wife, Yvette Abraham, own certain real estate in Clearwater County as joint tenants. In November 2002, appellant Shirley Bellefy, Yvette’s mother, moved into a residence on the property with the consent of both owners. She did not pay rent for November or December 2002, but began paying $250 a month on January 1, 2003. There was no written lease and no fixed term of Bellefy’s tenancy.
At some point, the Abrahams became parties to a marriage dissolution proceeding, which is still pending. The district court did not award the occupancy of the farm property to either party.
On February 27, 2003, Kirt Abraham gave Bellefy a one-month notice that he would terminate her tenancy and that she would have to vacate the premises. Bellefy remained on the premises with Yvette Abraham’s consent until the district court ordered her eviction. Bellefy challenges the eviction judgment on appeal.
D E C I S I O N
Bellefy argues that the district court made no findings of fact or conclusions of law but rather just checked a box on a printed eviction form. On appeal, she contends that the court’s failure to make findings and conclusions is reversible error and that one joint tenant cannot evict a renter from co-owned premises when the renter has the other joint tenant’s consent to occupy the premises.
Absence of Findings
Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 requires the district court to find the facts and to separately state conclusions of law in all bench trials. This was such a case.
One purpose of this rule is to aid an appellate court in reviewing the district court’s decision to the end that the appellate court will know the basis for the decision. Asch v. Hous. & Redev. Auth., 256 Minn. 146, 155-56, 97 N.W.2d 656, 664-665 (1959). But the absence of findings is not necessarily error if the record is so clear that findings are not required for meaningful review. Id. Here, the facts are not in dispute, and the sole issue on appeal is a question of law. Thus, although it is always the better practice to find facts and draw conclusions in non-jury evidentiary proceedings, the court’s failure to do so here does not prejudice either party. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (requiring harmless error to be ignored).
Eviction By One Joint Tenant
Bellefy contends that, by virtue of Yvette Abraham’s consent, she now stands in the shoes of one of the joint tenants and that Kirt Abraham, as the other joint tenant, has no greater authority to evict her than he would have to evict his co-owner. When the facts are not in dispute, the appellate court is not bound by and need not give deference to the district court’s decisions on purely legal issues. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v. Minn. Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
We are aware of no Minnesota authority, and Bellefy has cited none, that precisely controls this issue. But in a joint tenancy, each tenant is deemed to own the entire interest. 20 Am. Jur. 2d Cotenancy and Joint Ownership, § 109 (2002). It follows that a joint tenant could alienate the entire estate without the co-owner’s consent. Minn. Stat. § 500.19 codifies that principle: “Subject to section 507.02 specifying when both spouses must join in a conveyance of their homestead, one or more owners of an interest in real estate may convey all or part of the interest directly to one or more other persons . . . .” Minn. Stat. § 500.19, subd. 4(a) (2002). Minn. Stat. § 507.02 (2002) provides that an owner of real estate who is married cannot convey the parties’ homestead without the spouse’s signature on the instrument of conveyance. This is not the situation here because the property has not been represented to be homestead property.
Thus, if a joint tenant can convey his entire interest in the property without the other joint tenant’s consent, it follows that he can also lease the property or terminate the lease of the property without the joint tenant’s consent, as long as he follows the requirements of the lease or the statutes for effecting a termination of the tenancy. The termination notice is not challenged here.
With respect to the issue of the rental of co-owned property, the common law makes a significant distinction between tenancy in common and joint tenancy. Under a tenancy in common, a co-owner of property alone cannot alter the terms of rental to a third person without the other owner’s consent because the lease is regarded as being leases of the owners’ separate shares of the property. 20 Am. Jur. 2d Cotenancy and Joint Ownership, § 109 (2002).
Under a joint tenancy, the lease “is regarded in law as only one lease made by one lessor” and is terminable by that “one lessor” without the joint tenant’s consent. Id. at n.33; see 7 Richard R. Powell, Powell on Real Property § 51.04[b], at 51-20 (Michael Allan Wolf ed. 2000); A.C. Freeman, Cotenancy and Partition § 180(2d ed. 1886).
We reject Bellefy’s argument that as a renter she stands in the shoes of the joint tenant who consents to her occupancy. She remains nothing more than a renter who has all the rights accorded a renter through the lease agreement and by law. She does not enjoy the rights of a co-owner of the rental property.
Thus, we affirm the district court’s eviction order, but we note that our decision operates only as to this particular eviction and does not control what the joint tenants may do with the property in the future. Because the parties and their property are under the jurisdiction of the district court in the marriage dissolution proceeding, it would seem imperative that the district court make an appropriate order regarding the use of this property pending the final award.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.