Is there a Statute of Limitations on Partition Actions? 

Underwood-Blog-Images-1-300x300In most cases, no. Instead, the statute of limitations most frequently bars a partition action when a party’s rights to the property have lapsed due to an ouster. 

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. Typically, a property is partitioned in one of two ways. A partition by sale, where the subject property is sold, and the proceeds of the sale are split according to the respective interests of the titleholders. A physical partition physically divides the subject property into separate parcels in accordance with the respective interests. 

Who May Bring a Partition Action?

A co-tenant has an absolute right to partition. (Formosa Corp. v. Rogers (1951) 108 Cal.App.2d 397.) Each co-owner of a piece of real property has an equal right to possess and occupy the property that they co-own. Therefore, this equal right to possess and occupy also gives a co-owner the absolute right to partition the property they co-own. 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.) 

For example, “Justin” and “John” are two brothers who inherited a triplex in Alameda County from their father as tenants-in-common. John is currently a resident of the triplex, but Justin wants to sell the triplex because he could use the money to start his own business. John refuses to sell the triplex because it has sentimental value to him. As a co-owner of the property, Justin has the absolute right to bring a partition action in court to force the sale of the triplex. 

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations exists to limit the amount of time a litigant has to initiate a legal proceeding after the event causing the legal action to take place. The maximum amount of time that a litigant has to initiate a legal action varies based on jurisdiction and the injury that was committed. The statute of limitations begins to run once the cause of action has accrued. 

What is the Statute of Limitations for Partition Actions?

Generally, in California, the statute of limitations begins to run when the cause of action accrues. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 318, there can be no cause of action for the recovery of real property or recovery of possession of the real property unless the plaintiff seized or possessed the subject property within five years before the commencement of the action. (CCP § 318.) 

Moreover, under Code of Civil Procedure section 343, an action for relief not provided for in other code sections must be commenced within four years after the cause of action accrued. (CCP § 343.) In California, however, a partition action brought by a tenant-in-common of the property is not subject to the statute of limitations. Given that the right for a co-owner to partition is an absolute right, it is inconsistent to have the statute of limitations bar relief to that right, and therefore the statute of limitations never bars relief between tenant-in-common in a partition action. (Adams v. Hopkins (1904) 144 Cal. 19, 27.) In fact, the statute of limitations only runs against a partition action when a litigant has lost all rights to the subject property, and those rights were vested in some other person. (Id.) 

For example, “Pamela” and “Bobby” are former romantic partners that purchased a single-family home while they were together in Riverside. Four years after Pamela moved out of the house and the couple broke up, she brought a partition action against Bobby to sell the house. In turn, Bobby argues that four years have passed since Pamela left the house, and therefore she may not bring an action for partition. Bobby’s argument has no merit because Pamela is still an owner of the house, and therefore the statute of limitations cannot bar her from bringing a partition action against Bobby. 

Adams v. Hopkins

In 1904, the California Supreme Court established that the statute of limitations does not bar relief against a tenant-in-common in a partition action was established in a case known as Adams v. Hopkins. In Adams, Edson Adams brought a partition action against Emily Hopkins to partition a tract of land known as “Sobrante.” (Adams, 144 Cal. at 27.) Adams moved for an interlocutory judgment granting partition as a matter of right, and the trial court granted the interlocutory judgment. The Defendants appealed, contending that the cause of action for partition was barred by the statute of limitations. 

The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court opinion as to the interlocutory judgment. The Supreme Court reasoned that there is a general rule that the right to bring a partition action to partition property between tenants-in-common is not barred by the lapse of time. (Id.) Therefore, the statute of limitations cannot bar relief to a tenant-in-common bringing a partition action against another co-owner. In turn, a co-tenant to a piece of real property may bring an action to partition the subject property at any time that the co-owns the subject property. It is only when that co-tenant loses all rights of ownership to the property that the statute of limitations begins to run. 

How Can the Attorneys at Underwood Law Assist You?

The requirements to get a partition can prove to be a difficult task once in court. For a party to establish its right to partition, the party must establish that they own some ownership interest in the real property. Additionally, a party initiating must be aware of the statute of limitations and how waiting too long to bring a cause of action to the court can bar relief. It follows, then, that initiating a legal proceeding for a partition can be a complex process.

As each case is unique, property owners would be well-served to seek experienced counsel familiar with the ins and outs of a partition action and the law surrounding it. At Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help. If you are attempting to assert a partition action, are worried about the statute of limitations barring relief in your partition action, or if you just have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office. 

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