is to be regarded as undivided real property.
A tenant in common owns an undivided interest in the property.
Digby in his History of the Law of Real Property states (p. 276):
'From the earliest times, it must have been common for two or more persons to have undivided interests of some kind in land. By the time of Littleton three kinds of undivided ownership had come to be distinguished as having different attributes. The persons entitled are called joint tenants, tenants in common, coparceners. * * * The point of resemblance between the three kinds is that the co-owners have no separate estate or interest in any distinct portion of the land over which they have simultaneously rights of property, they are each interested, according to the extent of their share, in every part of the whole land and its proceeds.'
Black's Law Dictionary (3rd Ed.) 1777 contains the following definition:
'An undivided right or title, or a title to an undivided portion of an estate, is that owned by one of two or more tenants in common or joint tenants before partition.'
2 Bouv.Law Dict.,Rawle's Third Revision, p. 3352, defines the word 'undivided' as follows:
'Held by the same title by two or more persons, whether their rights are equal as to value or quantity, or unequal.'
It follows that property owned by tenants in common must be deemed to be undivided property within the meaning of the statute. Until a partition takes place, or there is a conveyance by the tenants in common vesting the entire title in one person, the property remains undivided in the eyes of the law. Consequently, under the circumstances of this case, the tax assessment in the name of the deceased owner complied with the statutory requirement.
Any other construction would render the statute futile and almost worthless from a practical standpoint, since it is difficult to conceive of real property in the District of Columbia which is undivided in the legal sense unless it is property owned by tenants in common or joint tenants. It is understood to be the contention of the defendants that the property should be deemed to have been undivided only between the death of Louisa J. Sanford and the probate of her will. There seems to be no logical basis for drawing the line at this point and no authority is cited to sustain this position. The restricted interpretation urged by the defendants would render the statute applicable to a very confined and small group of situations, and would not achieve the objective for which it was manifestly intended, namely, to relieve the taxing authorities of the burden of tracing heirs and devisees and their heirs and devisees, all of whom may own undivided interests in the same property. Property owners are not prejudiced because the statute places them on notice that the assessment will be carried on the rolls in the name of the deceased owner. This fact is well illustrated in the instant case, as it appears that for many years Louisa J. Sanford's devisees were paying taxes on the property, although it was assessed in the name of their testator.
The decision in Miller Development Co. v. Emig Properties Corp., 77 U.S.App.D.C. 205, 134 F.2d 36, on which the defendants rely, is not inconsistent with the conclusion here reached and does not support their position. The question involved in that case was whether it was proper to assess property in the name of a deceased owner before his will had been probated. The answer was in the affirmative. The present problem was not before the court.
It is in the interest of the community that stability and repose of titles to real property should be maintained and that they should not be upset on mere technicalities. This proposition is applicable to tax titles. The grantee in a tax deed is no mere purchaser of a law suit. His title is worthy of as much respect as a title derived from a grant of any other type. If the proceedings on which the tax sale is predicated substantially comply with the statutory directions, the courts should not be astute to search for technical grounds on which to set aside the conveyance.
In addition to pleading in narrative form the facts relating to the state of the title, the answer also contains a number of affirmative defenses. All of them, however, set forth solely conclusions of law and are, therefore, insufficient.
The plaintiffs and the third-party defendant must be deemed to have valid title to the property. The motion of the plaintiffs and the third-party defendant for judgment on the pleadings is granted.
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