Butte County Partition Lawyers

Butte County is named for the Sutter Buttes in neighboring Sutter County; butte means "small knoll" or "small hill" in French. Butte County comprises the Chico, CA metropolitan statistical area. It is in the California Central Valley, north of the state capital of Sacramento. Butte County is drained by the Feather River and the Sacramento River. Butte Creek and Big Chico Creek are additional perennial streams, both tributary to the Sacramento. The county is home to California State University, Chico and Butte College. According to Redfin, In July 2023, Butte County home prices were down 8.4% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $400K. On average, homes in Butte County sell after 32 days on the market compared to 25 days last year. There were 170 homes sold in July this year, down from 210 last year. Butte residents who own real estate may face disputes with co-owners. There are at least four types of situations where a Butte County 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 occurs when there are two or more title holders to a piece of property, and these title holders are unable to reach an agreement on splitting the subject property. Typically, a litigant brings a partition action to have the court force the sale of or split the subject property. Therefore, when a piece of personal property is concurrently owned by several people, one of the owners may bring a partition action to have the court divide the subject property. In the past, California courts have partitioned not only real estate but also, shares of stock, cash, and businesses.

Generally, an action for partition can be brought forth by a co-owner of real property and a co-owner of personal property. Notably, a court can partition not only real property or real estate but also personal property of any kind. (CCP § 872.230(a).) The best Butte County Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Generally, a partition action has four stages, which include (1) the filing of the lawsuit (2) an appraisal of the Property under the Partition of Real Property Act, (3) the determination of the parties’ interests, and appointment of a referee to sell the property, and (4) the division of the proceeds from the sale.

In California partition actions, the court must enter an interlocutory judgment where the court finds that the Plaintiff in a partition action is entitled to a partition. (CCP § 872.720.) The interlocutory judgment “determines the interests of the parties in the property and, unless it is to be later determined, the manner of partition.” (CCP § 872.720.) A top Butte County Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Code of Civil Procedure, section 874.010 states that “[t]he costs of partition include: (a) [r]easonable attorney’s fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit.”

Interestingly, the costs of partition can also include reasonable expenses necessarily incurred by a party for the common benefit in prosecuting or defending other actions or proceedings for the protection, confirmation, or perfection of title, setting the boundaries, or making a survey of the property. (CCP § 874.020.)

That attorney’s fees are considered “costs” associated with a partition action is important because Section 874.040 goes on to state 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.” A knowledgeable Butte County 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 Butte County Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Evenson v. Brown(2010)

When making a judgment on a partition action, trial courts have very broad power that include ascertaining the state of title to the property and determining the interests of the parties to the action. (CCP §§ 872.620, 872.720.) The following paragraphs discuss how the Court of Appeal determines whether a trial court abused its discretion when it ordered a constructive trust and fashioned an alternative remedy in Everson v. Brown (2010) 2010 WL 2991682.

In Everson, Darrell E. Evenson initiated a quiet title action to certain real property or in the alternative, a partition action to partition the property and divide the sales proceeds with the co-owner of the property, Charles Hensley Brown.

Barbara Lynn Sharpe granted Brown and Everson interest in certain real property located in Siskiyou County as cotenants in August 1998. The property had been improved with a residence made from an older mobile home.

In November 2007, Everson initiated this action alleging that the property was purchased from Sharpe pursuant to an oral contract whereby Sharpe would accept an amount in cash and a Jeep station wagon. Everson then alleged that he paid all of the consideration for the purchase and Brown failed to repay half of the consideration to Everson within a reasonable time. He claimed that he bought the property for an investment and Brown had been living on the property except when he was in prison, during which Brown’s family continued to live there.

Brown answered the complaint and denied all of Everson’s allegations. Additionally, Brown alleged that Everson’s interest in the property was akin to a loan. While Brown admittedly did not ever repay this loan, he claimed that Everson’s only contribution to the consideration was his share of the vehicle which was given to Sharpe to complete the sale. Brown further alleged that the property was purchased as a home for him and his family, and he had paid all the taxes on the property since 1998.

Each party represented himself at trial. Everson testified that Brown approached him that a woman was selling land for cheap and wanted $2000, a little house trailer that was owned by Brown, and a pickup truck. When the pickup truck didn’t work out, Everson gave Sharpe his Jeep instead and $2400. Everson also testified that he and Brown had verbally agreed that, if Brown performed on his agreement to pay Everson $1000, then Brown would get half the proceeds when they flipped and sold the property.

Both Brown’s and Everson’s names were on the deed to the property and when asked why, Everson claimed to just be too trusting. The property was never put up for sale and Everson never heard anything from Brown. Eventually, Everson went to the property and learned that Brown’s wife was living there and Brown had gone to prison.

Brown also testified at trial and contradicted all of Everson’s claims about the circumstances that had led to the purchase of the property. Brown claimed that the property was never purchased as an investment, and he never discussed that possibility with Everson. Rather his understanding was that Everson knew that he needed to obtain a home for himself, his wife, and grandchild before his prison sentence. Brown then learned Sharpe wanted to sell her property and negotiated with Sharpe an agreement by which she would take vehicles in the trade. Brown said he game Sharpe $1500 and Everson loaned Brown some money to help Sharpe buy a mobile home.

Brown further testified that he paid to remove the liens from the property for back taxes, water, and power. That he evicted the tenant and improved the property by rebuilding parts of it. Brown claimed that the only reason Everson’s name was on the title was to protect Everson in case something happened the Brown in prison so he could get his money back for the Jeep.

The trial court determined that Brown, not Everson, was the legal owner of the property, subject to a constructive trust in Everson’s favor in the amount of $2400, plus post-judgment interest. The court ordered Brown to pay Everson the $2400 amount within 120 days and that if he failed, he would have to execute a two-year promissory note and deed of trust in Everson’s favor bearing interest. The court also ordered that Everson quitclaim the property to Brown upon payment of the debt or delivery of the note and deed of trust. Everson appealed.

Everson contended that the trial court exceeded its authority in fashioning this remedy and erred in creating a constructive trust without clear and convincing evidence. The Court of Appeal for the Third District did not agree with Everson. The court noted that the ownership of the property is a fact that is to be determined in a partition action. (CCP §§ 872.610, 872.810.) While Everson may have argued that the trial court relied on Brown’s “blatant perjury” the reality was that the trial court did not believe Everson’s showing that there had been an agreement like Everson had laid out.

The Court of Appeal also found Everson’s other argument that the court exceeded its authority in creating a constructive trust to be unpersuasive as well. The Court stated that in a partition action, the trial court had very broad power that include the power to ascertain the state of title to the property, to determine the interests of the parties, to determine whether property should be partitioned in kind or sale, to hear and determine all motions, reports, and accounts, and to make any necessary or incidental orders. (CCP §§ §§ 872.120, 872.610, 872.620, 872.720, 872.810, 872.820.) Therefore, the Court found that the trial court had the authority to order the parties’ legal ownership and modify it to comport with their agreement.

Everson also attempted to argue that the trial court created totally new substantive rights under the guise of doing equity and exceeded its power by ordering Brown to either pay or in the alternative execute a note with a balloon payment. The Court quickly dismisses these arguments by first clarifying that the balloon loan would not be a substantive right but rather would merely allow Brown more time to pay the amount the trial court found he owed. Further the judgment did not give an option to Brown, but instead ordered he pay, or if he failed, to sign a note. The judgment did not leave any loose ends and was not objectionable. In the end, the Court found that Everson failed to show grounds for a reversal and affirmed the judgment.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

A court’s determination of ownership interests in a property depends on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Factors such as agreements and who pays for certain expenses for the property can ultimately affect the outcome of a partition case. 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 consultation.

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