Following the explosive split between the two stars in the hit reality show, “Vanderpump Rules,” many are left wondering what will become of the couple’s $2.2 million dollar home. Prior to their split, Ariana Madix and Tom Sandoval bought a farmhouse-style home in 2019 and took their time to renovate the Property into their dream home.
Unfortunately, due to Sandoval’s alleged affair in March 2023, the couple split but are still living under the same roof, with Sandoval apparently refusing to leave and stating that Madix was free to leave if she had a problem with him staying.
What happens when one party wants to leave, and the other party wants to stay on their shared property? In these situations, an owner of commonly owned property like Madix may feel like they are being held hostage by a former partner and co-owner. Under these circumstances, a partition action may be the best option for a fresh start.
What is a Partition Action?
A partition action is a forced sale of property by one of the co-owners under court supervision as part of the legal system. When disputes arise between co-owners of the property, the law provides for a method to end joint ownership. Partition suits most often arise from family member tenants in common, investor tenants in common, and non-married partners tenants in common. Generally, a partition action has four stages, which include (1) the filing of the lawsuit, (2) the determination of the parties’ interests, (3) the appointment of a referee and the sale of the property, and (4) the division of the proceeds from the sale.
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.
Joint Tenancy vs. Tenancy in Common
Typically, in California, most real estate is held either as marital property, as a tenancy in partnership, as joint tenants, or as tenants in common. The two main types of ownership commonly subject to partition are joint tenancies and tenancies in common.
In a joint tenancy, “four unities” must exists: (1) the unity of interest, (2) the unity of time, (3) the unity of title, and (4) the unity of possession. (Tenhet, 18 Cal.3d 150, 155.) A joint tenancy also exists when it is “expressly declared in the will or transferred to be a joint tenancy.” (CCP § 683.) A joint tenancy is different from a tenancy in common as its defining characteristic is the right of survivorship. This means that “when a joint tenant dies, the entire estate belongs automatically to the surviving joint tenant(s).” (Grothe v. Cortland Corp. (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1313, 1317.) Here, if Madix and Sandoval held their Property as joint tenants and one predeceased the other, the surviving party would take the entire Property. The deceased party’s heirs and beneficiaries would take nothing.
A key difference with a tenancy in common is that there is no right of survivorship. (Estate of Propst, 50 Cal.3d 448, 458-459.) If Madix and Sandoval took title to their Property as tenants in common and one predeceased the other, the surviving party would take nothing, and the deceased party’s interest would be subject to disposition by a will or trust.
Why Does It Matter?
Once a partition action is filed, the way that property is held can affect the parties’ reimbursement or contribution. “Once the court in a partition action has determined that a true joint tenancy exists, it may not order reimbursement or contribution on account of differences in the amounts the parties have paid toward the initial acquisition of the property.” (Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, 1195.)
However, the court may order reimbursement where one joint tenant advanced funds to acquire the property and the parties had made a prior agreement for reimbursement. (Donnelly v. Wetzel (1918) 37 Cal.App. 741.)
Here, if Madix and Sandoval contributed different amounts to the purchase price and held the Property as true joint tenants, then the ownership of the Property may be equal, irrespective of what they contributed.
However, if Madix and Sandoval held the Property as tenants in common, then the court may order reimbursement or contribution or determine each party’s ownership interests based on the amounts each contributed toward the purchase of the Property.
Thus, the type of tenancy Madix and Sandoval purchased the Property can affect the way a partition action plays out in terms of reimbursement.
How the Attorneys at Underwood Law can help
No matter whether you’re a regular individual or a reality TV star, property disputes happen all the time. A party’s right to real estate depends on how the title to real estate is held. As there are various factors that can play a substantial role in how a property is divided or sold, you should consider consulting an experienced attorney if you are concerned about your rights.
As each case is unique, property owners would be well-served to seek experienced counsel familiar with deeds and the law surrounding them. At Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help. If you are concerned about whether your deed created a true joint tenancy, tenancy in common, or other types of tenancy, or if you just have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
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