Bellflower Partition Lawyers

Bellflower is a city located in southeast Los Angeles, County, California. Originally, the Bellflower area was a hunting and fishing spot due to an abundance of wild game, ducks, geese, carp, and perch. The first municipality on the site was named Somerset and founded in 1909. Apparently, the US Post Office rejected the name “Somerset” to prevent confusion with Somerset, Colorado. According to Redfin, in March 2024, the median sales price was $759,000 and homes stay on the market for 50 days. Bellflower residents who own real estate may face disputes with co-owners. There are at least four types of situations where a Bellflower Partition Attorney may be helpful:

  • Investor-Developer co-ownership of property;
  • Ex Romantic Partner co-ownership of property;
  • Shared Family co-ownership of property; and
  • Parent-Child co-ownership of property;
What is a Partition Action?

A partition action is an action brought by a co-owner of a piece of real property against another co-owner, seeking to divide the property according to the respective interests of the co-owners. In order to establish a right to a partition, a party must show that they have some ownership interest in the subject property. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 872.210, any owner of an estate of inheritance, an estate for life, or an estate for years in real property where such property or estate is owned by several persons concurrently or in successive estates may bring a partition action. (CCP § 872.210.) Therefore, a co-tenant has an absolute right to partition. (Formosa Corp. v. Rogers (1951), 108 Cal.App.2d 397.) At the Underwood Law Firm, our attorneys are more than familiar with partition actions and the step-by-step process of pursuing a partition.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. Virtually universally, the instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have involved some sort of written contract or adverse possession of property. As such, many parties try to stop a partition action through mediation, or a buy-out agreement. In most instances, the parties to a partition action can benefit from creative lawyering by those who are familiar with the different options for resolving real estate disputes. The best Bellflower Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What are the steps in a Partition Action?

Under the Partition of Real Property Act, the court instead appoints an appraiser to do the heavy lifting. The new statute states that the court “shall determine the fair market value of the property by ordering an appraisal.” (CCP § 874.316.) The court doesn’t have to be the one to order the appraisal, but this is only if all the co-owners agree to a different method of valuation.

If, however, an appraisal occurs, it shall be conducted by a disinterested third-party real estate appraiser licensed to determine the fair market value of properties. After the appraisal is conducted, parties may file objections to the value and can even offer additional evidence of value to the court.

After the valuation is complete, parties will be introduced to the key feature of the new statute: the buy-out option. If a co-owner requests a partition by sale, then the court will notify the other co-owners that they may buy all the interests of the cotenant that requested the partition. (CCP § 874.317.)

This is, essentially, a right of first refusal. The co-owners who don’t want the property sold now have the option to simply buy out the requesting party. Additionally, the buy-out price will be based on the property’s valuation, determined earlier in the litigation. And if one or more parties exercise the buy-out, then the court will reapportion ownership percentages based on the price paid. A top Bellflower Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

The Court may award attorneys’ fees in the partition action that are paid by a party to the action for the common benefit of all the co-owners. (CCP § 872.010.) The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue directly, holding that under former section 796, the predecessor to the current partition cost statute, “counsel fees may be allowed ... for services rendered for the common benefit even in contested partition suits.” (Capuccio v. Caire (1932) 215 Cal. 518, 528-529 (Capuccio).)

Moreover, cases interpreting those sections continue to permit the allocation of attorney fees in contested partition actions. (Forrest v. Elam (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 164, 174.) From these authorities it is evident that the “common benefit” in a partition action is the proper distribution of the “‘respective shares and interests in said property by the ultimate judgment of the court.’ ” (Capuccio, 215 Cal. at p. 528.) This sometimes will require that “ ‘controversies’ ” be “ ‘litigated’ ” to correctly determine those shares and interests but this ultimately can be for the common benefit as well. The fact that a party resists the partition does not change this. (See Randell v. Randell (1935) 4 Cal.2d 575, 582 [“The presence and litigation of controversial issues between all the parties does not preclude the allowance of attorney's fees for services connected with such issues where such services are found to be for the common benefit of the parties.”].) A knowledgeable Bellflower Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for Contribution?

Under the law, a property owner can make a claim for contribution for anything that they have expended for the common benefit of all the parties as it relates to their jointly-owned property. Code of Civil Procedure section 874.410 states that “the court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustment among the parties according to the principles of equity.” For example, the credits can include expenditure in excess of the co-tenants fractional share for necessary repairs and improvements that enhance the value of the property. (Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) Similarly, payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be the subject of a reimbursement claim. (Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24.) An experienced Bellflower Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Cadena v. Castillo (2024)

In a partition lawsuit, the court issues orders and judgments at different stages of litigation. The parties may initiate the appellate procedure regarding the order or judgment. The court of appeal may consider an appeal if the matter is appealable, and if the appellant has adhered to specific procedural steps required by the law. The following paragraphs discuss how the courts determine whether to consider an appeal in Cadena v. Castillo (2024) 2024 WL 744364.

In Cadena, Irene Cadena (Cadena) brought suit against her daughter Nyka Castillo(Castillo) for ouster, ejectment, and partition of property by sale. The parties inherited the Property from Nyka’s father and Irene’s husband, Gonzalo Castillo (Gonzalo), and owned it as joint tenants. Gonzalo had established a trust which included the disputed property and Irene was the successor trustee of the trust. In the complaint, Irene alleged that after Gonzalo’s death, Nyka took possession of the property and refused access to property to Irene or to agree to a rental or co-tenancy agreement. The fair market value, Irene alleged, was $6,000 per month or $200 per day. In January 2020, prior to the final status conference, the parties settled their dispute through mediation and memorialized their agreement in a “deal points” writing, which both parties endorsed and agreed it would be “binding and enforceable” pursuant to section 664.6 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The parties did not execute a formal settlement document.

As per the settlement agreement, Nyka could reside in the property for free until April 2, 2020, when the property would be listed for sale. Furthermore, according to the agreement, after April 2, 2020, Nyka would pay a penalty of $500 per day to Irene from Nyka’s share of the property’s sales proceeds. Additionally, it stated that Irene would pay $10,000 to Nyka from a reserve being held in the trust for Nyka and that “time was of essence” with regard to the payment. Nyka received a check from Irene for the amount at the conclusion of the mediation. The trial court, after receiving the settlement, vacated the final status conference and scheduled an order to show cause hearing regarding dismissal.

Following the mediation, Nyka refused to sign a more formal settlement document that Irene had already signed. Nyka also rejected purchase offers for the property, fired her attorney, refused to vacate the property, and informed Irene’s attorney that the property was not for sale. Irene filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement arguing that it was enforceable pursuant to section 664.6 and sought an interlocutory judgment incorporating the terms of the settlement and appointment of a receiver to sell the property and distribute the proceeds. Irene opposed dismissal of the case due to Nyka’s refusal to comply with the settlement agreement.

In her filings, Irene included the agreement’s provision that Nyka would pay $500 per day for overstay past April 2, 2020. Nyka filed a “Request to Uphold Dismissal and Vacate the Settlement Agreement.” She argued that Gonzalo did not intend for Irene to inherit the property and had Irene as a trust beneficiary only to protect Nyka’s interest in the property. Further, Nyka revealed that she had no intention of complying with the settlement agreement and had signed it only to get the $10,000 advance”. The court held that Nyka’s filing seeking vacatur of the settlement agreement did not address the reasonableness or enforceability of the settlement agreement’s penalty provision. After hearing the arguments, the court granted Irene’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement. Additionally, the court found that Nyka had not provided any “competent facts or applicable authority to vacate the settlement agreement and/or substantively oppose” the motion to enforce. The trial court entered an “Interlocutory Judgment of Partition and Appointment of Court Referee.”

The interlocutory judgment provided that beginning April 3, 2020, Nyka would pay Irene a penalty of $500 per day of residence in the property until she vacated the property. The total amount was to be paid from Nyka’s share of the proceeds from the sale. The Code of Civil Procedure §904.1(a)(9) makes such an interlocutory judgment in partition action appealable, however, Nyka did not appeal the judgment, which became final on August 16, 2021.

Following the sale of the property and after the initial disbursements were made, a balance of $244,229.41 remained, and there was still the issue of the $172,000 penalty imposed by the interlocutory judgment. In Irene’s motion for an order disbursing the $172,000 to her, Irene argued that Nyka did not challenge the interlocutory judgment on appeal. Additionally, she contended that the $500 per day penalty provision should be considered binding as it was not an improper liquidated damages clause. Further, she asserted the penalty provision in the agreement was included to incentivize Nyka to move out as soon as possible to expedite the sale of the property. Nyka, in her opposition to Irene’s motion, argued that the penalty provision was unenforceable as it had “no reasonable relationship to the actual damages Irene incurred as a result of [Nyka] continuing to stay [at] the property.” Nyka also argued that she had to extend her stay due to her being unable to find a new residence during the COVID- 19 lockdown. Moreover, she claimed that the value of the property increased during Nyka’s extended stay, and that Irene had not shown any damages due to Nyka’s extended occupation of the property.

The trial court granted Irene’s motion and granted her the disbursement of $172,000. It also found that Nyka could not challenge payment of the penalty because she did not file a timely appeal or challenge to the judgment. The court entered a final judgment of partition. Nyka appealed the judgment.

The California Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment. It held that Nyka had to challenge the penalty provision before the interlocutory judgment became final for the provision to be appealable. Once the deadline to appeal the judgment passed, its provisions became conclusive for all issues resolved, including the issue of penalties. The court further ruled that the interlocutory judgments determining the rights and interests of parties in an action for partition is made expressly appealable by Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1.

However, it further noted that the California Supreme Court has long held that such judgments become final and conclusive once the time to appeal has expired. The court held that the basis for the disbursement of $172,000 to Irene in the final judgment was the penalty provision in the interlocutory judgment, and as Nyka did not challenge the provision in the interlocutory judgment, it became final. Further, the court held that Nyka’s arguments against reasonableness and enforceability of the provision lack merit. However, the appellate court denied Irene’s request to sanction Nyka for pursuing a frivolous appeal, citing previous case laws wherein the courts held that a meritless appeal is not the same as frivolous and the power to impose sanctions for prosecuting frivolous appeals “should be used sparingly and to deter only the most egregious conduct”.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

In a partition lawsuit, as in any legal proceeding, it is vital to navigate the procedural components of litigation skillfully to advocate successfully for the matter at hand. If you are considering partition as an option, or find yourself defending one, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consult.

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