Thursday, October 1, 2009

Celebrity Legal Claim of the Week

Those celebrities just can’t stay away from strange legal theories. After Roman Polanski claimed last week that his sex crime should be excused because he’s a great artist, Jon Gosselin, former star of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” is now claiming the right to exclude television crews from the home he owns jointly with his wife.

Jon Gosselin and his wife had a “reality” TV show about their life with their eight children. But now they are estranged, and Jon recently got fired from the show, which is to be renamed “Kate plus 8.” Not taking this lying down, Jon has demanded that TLC, the network filming the show, stay out of his house. If they enter to film, he claims he’ll have them arrested as trespassers.

Sheesh, if I were TLC’s general counsel, I would tell Jon, “ooh, we’re scared.” How about some basic property law? Every law student knows that joint owners of property (known in property law as “joint tenants” or “tenants in common”) each own an “undivided interest” in the whole property and each has a right to occupy the property without the consent of the other. Heck, each of them has a right to lease the property without the consent of the other.

In 1861, the California Supreme Court considered the case of a lessee who had leased property from a joint owner and was then asked to leave by the other joint owner. The Court said, “We have no doubt that one tenant in common may occupy the common premises, and as little that he may permit another person to occupy a part of them; and it is impossible for us to see how that tenant in common could sue such person, so lawfully entering or occupying, as a trespasser, or how his cotenant could maintain such suit.” Ord v. Chester, 18 Cal. 77 (1861).

More recently, a California court considered a case quite like the Gosselins’: an estranged husband and wife jointly owned a home, which the husband leased to a third party. The wife showed up and tried to oust the lessee. The court said: “A cotenant has no right to oust a person who holds possession with the consent of another tenant in common. . . . When a joint tenant leases to a third party he confers upon the latter the same right of possession that he himself has.” Verdier v. Verdier, 152 Cal.App.2d 348, 313 P.2d 123 (1957).

If one of the estranged spouses can lease the property without the consent, and indeed over the objection, of the other, then either can certainly invite guests onto the property without the consent and over the objection of the other.

So if I were TLC, I would tell Jon to get lost. Kate’s permission is all they need.

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