Bay Area Partition Lawyers

The San Francisco Bay Area is located in Northern California, and generally includes San Francisco, Alameda, Marin, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Napa, San Mateo, and Solano counties. The Bay Area is home to approximately 7.76 million people, and is home to several professional sports franchises, including the San Francisco 49ers, the Golden State Warriors, the San Francisco Giants, and the Oakland As. The Bay Area is the second largest geographical region in California, the fifth-largest in the United States, and the 41st largest in the world. The Bay Area is home to four of the world’s ten largest companies by market capitalization, and houses the headquarters of Applee, Wells Fargo, Salesforce, Uber, AirBnB, Twitter, Levi’s, Gap, DropBox, and Lyft. As an economically vibrant region, home prices continue to climb, which can lead to joint ownership problems. Bay Area Partition Lawyers often find that joint ownership problems fall into four categories:

  • Investor-Investor shared tenants in common in real estate;
  • Parent-Child tenants in common in real estate;
  • Brother-Sister shared tenants in common in real estate; and
  • Non-Married Partners shared tenants in common in real estate;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition lawsuit requires real estate to be sold regardless of the requests of the other title owners. The purpose of a partition action is to permanently end all disputes and remove all obstacles to the free enjoyment of land by one person. ( McGillivray v. Evans (1864) 27 Cal.92.) These types of actions can be brought for all types of real estate from houses to farms to office buildings to apartment buildings. Similarly, partition actions are available all types of ownership situations from joint tenants to tenants-in-common to partnership property to property jointly owned by former spouses.

Historically, the term "partition" comes from the basic word to break into "parts" as in physically dividing real estate in half. For example, if two siblings inherited ten acres of farmland, the property could historically be divided into five acres a piece for each of them. As most people now live in single-family homes, which cannot simply be "split in half," courts will instead order that the property be sold and the proceeds, or equity, be "split in half." The best Bay Area Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Generally, the first step in the partition lawsuit process is not a lawsuit, but an earnest attempt to resolve the matter informally, such as through a partition agreement. Only when it is clear that litigation is the only option, is it clear that a partition lawsuit is appropriate.

When it is clear that a partition lawsuit is necessary, then the process begins with the filing of a complaint in the county where the property is located. There are several technical requirements for the partition complaint, and many important steps that must be taken during the lawsuit to ensure that the process is managed effectively.

In a partition lawsuit, there are generally four different steps. First, the court determines each party's ownership interests. Second, the court will decide on the manner of sale. Third, the court will order the property be sold. Fourth, the proceeds from the sale will be divided between the parties based on their relative contributions to the property.

While some may believe that inherited property cannot be partitioned, this is incorrect. Instead, when the property is owned as the result of an inheritance, there may be an additional step for an appraisal, and a right of first refusal, as provided by the Uniform Partition of Heirs Act. Under this act, where a co-tenant requests partition by sale, the law gives the non-partition owner the option to buy all of the interests of the co-tenants who requested the sale. A top Bay Area Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Mediate a Partition Action?

A partition action can always be resolved informally at any time prior to the first day of trial. In fact, in numerous instances, just filing the partition itself leads the other party to seek a resolution between them. We always encourage the parties to talk throughout every phase of the process, as that can lead to the best outcomes for everyone.

From our perspective, every piece of litigation is just part of a larger “negotiation.” In any negotiation, the party who has the best leverage is usually able to achieve a more favorable outcome. The lawsuit provides the client with more leverage because they have more options available to them than without the prospect of a resolution from a judge. As such, all that a lawsuit does is provide one party with more leverage in the negotiation about how to resolve the dispute. For this reason, the best way to informally resolve a dispute is to combine discussions with active litigation, so that the matter can be quickly resolved without unnecessary expense. Throughout the process, our attorneys are in touch with our clients about their options and the prospects for informal resolution through mediation or negotiation. A knowledgeable Bay Area Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Code of Civil Procedure section 874.140 states that the “court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustments among the parties according to the principles of equity.”

The court in Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24 stated that the payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be subject to reimbursement. These claims for reimbursement are commonly known as “offsets” in a partition action.

Further, the court under Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, announced that a co-tenant who expends money for the preservation of the property, or with the [acceptance] of their co-tenant(s), is entitled to reimbursement for those expenditures before the division of the proceeds among the property owners.

That is, the general rule is that compensatory adjustments are appropriate for improvements that enhance the value of the property for all owners’ benefit. (see Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) An experienced Bay Area Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Pippins v. Jah

An action for partition is essentially equitable in nature. Under California Code of Civil Procedure section 874.040, the court shall apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interests or make such other apportionment as may be equitable. The costs of partition include reasonable attorney fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit, the referee’s fees and expenses, and the compensation provided by contract for services of a person employed by the referee in the action. (CCP § 874.010.) What happens when a party in a partition action obstructs the action and uses counterproductive and cost-increasing litigation tactics? The following paragraphs discuss the result of unnecessary litigation in the case, Pippins v. Jah (2018) 2018 WL 1616604.

In Pippins, Plaintiff Kathy A. Pippins, administrator of the Pippins Estate, brought an action in partition against the Young Estate and others. Following the court’s issuance of an interlocutory judgment in 2013 ordering the property to be partitioned by sale and the appointment of a referee, David Jah, an heir to the Young Estate moved to vacate the interlocutory judgment.

Prior to the issuance of the interlocutory judgment, Jah had been living at the property without Pippins’ consent and refused to vacate the property even after the interlocutory judgment. In 2014, Jah was eventually evicted only after the appointed referee hired an attorney to assist in removing Jah. Because Jah had to be physically removed from the property by the sheriff’s department, the referee incurred considerable expenses as a result of the large amount of personal property Jah left behind. Also in 2014, the administrator of the Young Estate was suspended and removed, and no administrator was appointed until two years later in 2016.

In 2016, the referee received an offer on the property and moved to confirm the sale. In the referee’s final report, the referee described how Jah had delayed the sale of the property and itemized the referee’s time spent and services performed. In the referee’s attorney’s supporting declaration, the attorney described the attorney fees and costs incurred to evict Jah, oppose his excessive and frivolous motions, and defend the referee against Jah’s baseless accusations of wrongdoing relating to the sale of the property. The attorney also described the expenses incurred for the filing fees and costs of packing, moving, and storing Jah’s personal property left behind after his eviction. The court approved the report.

Also in 2016, Pippins filed a motion to apportion the costs. Pippins contended that the partition action took more than six years because of Jah’s “obstructionist tactics.” The motion also included Jah’s litigation tactics which included numerous unsuccessful motions, ex-parte applications, and an unsuccessful appeal of the interlocutory judgment. Pippins further contended that most of the attorney fees to prosecute the partition action, all of the attorney fees incurred to evict Jah, and the costs of storing Jah’s property would not have been incurred had Jah not participated in such unmeritorious actions.

As a result, Pippins requested that all of the referee’s fees, all of the referee’s attorney’s fees, and all of the storage costs to be apportioned to the Young Estate. Pippins also requested to be reimbursed for the expenses the Pippins Estate for the expenses it paid for the property that were for the common benefit of the owners. Jah then filed an opposition and requested a continuance so that a new administrator could be appointed and contended that Pippins’ motion misrepresented and manipulated facts.

Pippins was successful on her motion and the trial court found that the costs of the partition action “were increased significantly by the obstructive actions of David Jah,” and also by the former administrator of the Young Estate. The trial court ordered all of the referee’s fees and costs, and all of the referee’s attorney fees and costs to the Young Estate. The trial court also ordered for the Pippins Estate to be reimbursed for the expenses paid for the common benefit of the parties related to the property, such that the expenses were shared equally by both estates.

On appeal, the California First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order granting Pippins’ motion for apportionment, holding that “the ruling must stand unless the appellant establishes that the trial court exceeded the bounds of reason, resulting in a miscarriage of justice,” which Jah failed to do. ( Lin v. Jeng (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1008, 1025.) Further, “if an appellant wishes to argue a point on appeal, it must first make a record by raising the point in the trial court.” ( Tudor Rances, Inc. v. State Comp. Ins. Fund (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 1422, 1433.) Jah’s main arguments were that the court erred in apportioning the attorney fees to the Young Estate, and that the amount of those attorney fees were excessive and unreasonable. The Court of Appeal found that Jah forfeited these arguments on appeal because he failed to: (1) raise these arguments in the trial court, (2) challenge the apportionment percentages in Pippins’ apportionment motion in his opposition, and (3) explicitly challenge the amount of the attorney fees.

Further, the Court of Appeal found that Jah’s arguments failed on their merits because the evidence in the record demonstrated that the trial court used the proper standard in the apportionment and did not exceed the bounds of reason because the fees were “supported by evidence of the work performed, the hours worked, and the hourly rate charged. ( Lin, supra, 203 Cal.App.4th at 1026.) Jah also attempted to argue that the trial court erred in denying his request to continue the apportionment motion hearing because the Young Estate did not have a representative at the time since the administrator was removed. The Court of Appeal disagreed with Jah and reasoned that although Jah was not a party to the partition action, he had participated in the case and filed numerous pleadings, which meant that he could have, but instead failed to seek out other available remedies to have another administrator appointed.

Pippins showcases the consequences of vexatious litigation and is a good warning to those participating in partition actions to refrain from acting in bad faith.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen above, how the court decides to apportion the costs of partition for referee fees, attorney fees, etc., depends on what the court determines to be equitable. Actions that seek to obstruct the litigation process may lead to differences in the amount allocated or reimbursed.

As a party to a potential partition action, actions and tactics that you or other parties make during the litigation process may shape the outcome of your case and the apportionment of costs, and as such, you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition action, or faced with defending one, then please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C. for an initial consultation.

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