Burbank Partition Lawyer

The City of Burbank was named after David Burbank, who purchased the land in 1867 and built a ranch to raise sheep and grow wheat. Today, Burbank is known as the "media capital of the world" and is home to some of the largest media, entertainment, and production companies in the world such as Warner Brothers Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company. According to Redfin, The Burbank housing market is somewhat competitive. Homes in Burbank receive 9 offers on average and sell in around 25 days. The median sale price of a home in Burbank was $1.2M last month, down 2.0% since last year. The median sale price per square foot in Burbank is $734, down 7.4% since last year. As more people continue to move to Burbank for employment, the cost of housing continues to rise. As a result, Burbank residents may wish to sell their homes to get the best value. However, residents of Burbank who jointly own property may face disputes with co-owners. There are at least four types of situations where a Burbank 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 in California?

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 Burbank Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Broadly, a partition action has only relatively simple steps. First, a party files a lawsuit to establish their rights to the property and desire to sell the property. Second, the court determines that the property should be sold, and appoints an appraiser to appraise the property and offer the other owner the opportunity to buy out the interest. Third, if the other fails to do so, then the Court appoints a “partition referee” (who is frequently a licensed Realtor) to sell the property, and they market and sell the property and deposits the proceeds into a trust account. Fourth, the court determines how much each party should receive from the proceeds, which should include addressing offsets and claims for contribution in an “accounting.” A top Burbank Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Section 874.040 gives courts only two options in apportioning the costs and fees of partition: by ownership interest or by some other equitable apportionment. (see Finney v. Gomez (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 527, 545 (Finney).)

Notably, appellate courts have found the statutory language of Section 874.040 to give courts broad and equitable discretion. (Lin v. Jeng (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1008.) This sentiment that the record must support the allocation of attorney’s fees in an amount greater than disclosed by title is echoed in Stutz, where the appellate court held the trial court erred in apportioning 100% of the attorney’s fees and costs of a partition to the respondent. The appellate court recognized that trial courts are free to apportion fees and costs in an equitable manner yet held that the record must support such an arrangement in “any manner other than according to the respective interests of the parties in the property.” (Stutz, 122 Cal.App.3d 1, 5.)

For example, where a party refuses to simply resolve the issue where the other party was willing to sell, then a court has the authority to order a different amount of fees than disclosed by title. (Forrest v. Elam (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 164, 174.) In other words, the resistance to selling the property may be a factor that a court considers in awarding attorneys’ fees in a partition action. A knowledgeable Burbank Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Following the sale of the property, the referee will divide the proceeds of the sale among the parties in according to amounts expended for the "common benefit."

When the sale is confirmed by the court, the court may enter an order about the proceeds of sale. Under the law, the sale proceeds must be applied in a defined order. Specifically, Code of Civil Procedure section 873.820 states that the sale proceeds go towards (a) payment of expenses of the sale, (b) payment of the other costs of partition, (c) payment of any liens on the property in priority, (d) and distribution of the remainder to the parties in proportion to their shares as determined by the court.

Generally, the last part of the priority list includes what is commonly known as an "accounting" or a determination of whether one party has contributed more than their fair share to the property in the form of taxes, improvements, or other benefits for the property. For example, if one party is a 50% owner of the property, but has paid all of the property taxes for the property, then that property owner will have a claim for the remaining 50% above their interest in the property. An experienced partition lawyer will be able to help a co-owner determine their claims to the proceeds and make these arguments to the court in an effective way. An experienced Burbank Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Murray v. Hull

Generally, joint tenants have a right to partition. The right to partition can, however, be waived through an express or even implied agreement between the tenants. Such an agreement may not even carry an explicit partition waiver, but courts may interpret the agreement to waive partition.

Co-tenants often have agreements regarding their property, and the provisions of those agreements may affect the right to partition. It is important for parties to understand how courts could interpret these agreements and how any possible future litigation may be affected.

The property at issue in Murray v. Hull (2020) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 5834394, was a residence meant to serve as a family home for the Hull family. (Id., at 1.) Billie J. Hull and her mother, Annie Hull, took title to the property as joint tenants. (Id.) Annie lived in the home. (Id.)

In 2000, Billie and Annie quitclaimed title to the property to all the family members as joint tenants. (Id.) The intent of the quitclaim was to keep the house within the family and make sure that family members had a place for the family. (Id.) Over the next sixteen years, the family maintained the property. (Id.)

In 2005, the family members took out a $100,000 loan, secured by the property, to rebuild areas of the house. (Id.) Sometime in 2009 or 2010, Augustus Hull painted the house and did other maintenance. (Id.) There was no evidence of the property’s value prior to 2016. (Id.)

During those sixteen years, Billie was the only sibling paying the mortgage and all the other expenses on the property. (Id.) Two siblings, Joyce Ann Hull and William Hull, lived on the property but did not pay Billie any rent. (Id.)

In August 2016, Billie sued all of her family members for partition by sale and compensatory damages. (Id.) Billie alleged that her siblings had decreased the property’s value by refusing to maintain it. (Id.)

After a court hearing, the trial court denied Billie’s request for partition. (Id., at 2.) The trial court ruled that the family members made an implied agreement to waive partition because they agreed for the property to stay in the family for the family’s use. (Id.) The trial court also denied Billie’s claim for waste, ruling that Billie provided almost no evidence to support her claim. (Id.)

Billie appealed the trial court’s ruling. (Id.) While the appeal was pending, Billie passed away and her successor in interest April Murray stepped into her place for the lawsuit. (Id.) April will be referred to as “plaintiff” for clarification. (Id.) The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment (Id., at 1.)

California law gives each joint tenant a right to partition. (Id., at 2.) A joint tenant’s right to partition, however, can be waived by a prior implied or express agreement among the joint tenants to not partition the property. (Id.)

There was substantial evidence presented to the trial court of an express or implied agreement between the family members not to partition the property. (Id.) Augustus Hull testified that the family members intended for the property to stay within the family for their use. (Id.) The married family members also took title as their sole and separate property. (Id.)

Additionally, the family members took title in joint tenancy, which has the right of survivorship. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held this supported the agreement to waive partition, because upon an owner’s death the title would pass on to the other family members. (Id.)

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Joyce Ann and William were living on the property. (Id.) If the property was sold, Joyce Ann would be left homeless. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that a partition by sale would violate the family’s agreement because the property would no longer be a family home. (Id.)

The plaintiff argued that the agreement never existed, and she would never enter into an agreement where she had to pay all of the expenses while the other family members paid nothing. (Id.) The plaintiff also argued that the trial court’s findings contradicted facts the trial court previously deemed admitted. (Id.)

Though the plaintiff claimed there was no agreement, Augustus testified at trial that there was an agreement and the trial court found him more credible. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that Augustus’s testimony was substantial evidence in favor of the agreement’s existence. (Id.) The Court of Appeal also refused to imply the plaintiff’s intentions of entering or not entering an agreement because it would be legally improper. (Id.) The trial court did deem several facts to be admitted, but the Court of Appeal held that these facts were not ultimately relevant to the trial court’s judgment. (Id.) Even though the trial court did not mention the admitted facts in its ruling, the Court of Appeal held this did not matter since those facts were irrelevant. (Id.)

The plaintiff next argued that partition should be favored in this case. (Id., at 4.) The plaintiff argued partition would allow the costs of the property’s permit violations to be distributed among the siblings. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held this argument overrides a partition waiver. (Id.)

The plaintiff also claimed that the trial court was biased against her. (Id.) The Court of Appeal found no bias in the trial court. (Id.)

For the plaintiff’s waste claim, the trial court concluded that the plaintiff did not have substantial evidence of the property’s alleged decrease in value. (Id.) The property was known to be in poor condition in 2016, but there was no evidence of its value before 2016. (Id.) Without this evidence, it was impossible to determine whether the property decreased or increased in value. (Id.) The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court and dismissed the plaintiff’s waste claim. (Id.) The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Murray illustrates how courts view the existence of partition waivers. Even though the agreement in Murray was not an agreement that explicitly waived partition, the court interpreted the agreement in a way where partition would violate that agreement. It is vital for parties to sort out any prior agreements involving property so that everyone understands how the agreement may affect partitions.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in Murray, parties must be prepared at all stages of litigation. It is not enough to rely on the trial court’s orders, which can be challenged and reversed. Parties must be ready at all times to argue their case.

Here at Underwood Law Firm, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding partitions. If you are trying to plan a partition order, or just have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office.

Learn more here.

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