Chico Partition Lawyers

Chico, the most populous city in Butte County, is known for being home to the California State University, Chico, and Bidwell Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. According to Redfin, in June 2023, Chico home prices were down 9.79% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $429K. On average, homes in Chico sell after 11 days on the market compared to 12 days last year. There were 80 homes sold in June this year, down from 107 last year. As a small town, many residents have lived in Chico their whole lives and have obtained their homes through inheritance. As these homes continue to be passed down to individuals through intestate succession, many siblings find themselves co-owning property. Joint ownership, however, is no easy venture. An experienced Chico Partition Lawyer can attest to the number of disagreements among co-owners when each has different plans concerning a shared property.

When disagreements arise between co-owners over a shared property, the legal remedy of partition is the favored solution to end all disputes. Generally, a partition action is the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories: 

  • Split ownership real estate dispute;
  • Brother-Sister real estate dispute;
  • Investor-Investor real estate dispute; and
  • Significant other real estate dispute
What Is a Partition Action in California?

Partition is a court-ordered process where a property owner forces a sale of jointly owned real estate. Essentially, a partition action exists to allows people who own real estate together to take their share of the equity and go their separate ways. But, as simple as this seems, partition actions can often become complex lawsuits. Disputes commonly arise as to what type of partition may be sought and the process for determining ownership interests.

For example, “Julie” bought a house with her boyfriend, “Shawn,” thinking that they would get married one day. Later, after they had bought the house, Julie realized that her boyfriend was not the right person for her. Because Julie wanted to move on in her life, she also wanted to sell the house she bought with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, however, was mad at Julie for breaking up with him, and so refused to agree to sell the house. Because they were not married, Julie could not go to a divorce lawyer, and because they both did not agree to sell, a realtor could not help Julie. Julie felt trapped. Julie then, however, found a partition lawyer and was able to get the house sold so she could move on with her life. A partition lawyer got the job done. The best Chico Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

First, a partition action is filed. A partition action can be filed if one co-owner of real property or a piece of real estate wishes to sell the property or piece of real estate in question but the other co-owners or co-tenants do not wish to sell their ownership rights.

Second, the court may appoint a court referee to oversee the sale of the property in question. The sales procedure includes that all parties agree to the terms and conditions of the sale in writing. If the parties can not agree, as partition actions are usually very contested issues, then the referee that the court appointed may recommend terms and conditions to the court. Then the court will hold a hearing to decide whether or not to accept those terms and conditions.

Third, in California, the property’s value will be appraised via a third party or another property appraisal with no ties to any of the parties. While this is not required in all states, it is recommended to make sure that all parties are on the same metaphorical page as to the potential sale proceeds of the property in question.

Fourth, the referee will conduct the sale in the method most agreeable to all of the party’s goals. This can be via a public auction or a private sale. Regardless of the specific method of partition by sale, the court will determine if the sale was “fair.” If it is decided that the property’s sale proceeds had a lack of proper notice, the sale amount is not within reasonable the value of the property, or if the proceeds were unfair- the court would rule that the property will be up for sale again.

Lastly, the court will order that the proceeds of the sale, minus any court litigated or approved offsets or costs, will be distributed equitably amongst all of the co-owners or people with interest in the property. A top Chico 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 Chico Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “contribution”?

Code of Civil Procedure section 874.140 states that the “court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustments among the parties according to the principles of equity.”

The court in Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24 stated that the payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be subject to reimbursement. These claims for reimbursement are commonly known as “offsets” in a partition action.

Further, the court under Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, announced that a co-tenant who expends money for the preservation of the property, or with the [acceptance] of their co-tenant(s), is entitled to reimbursement for those expenditures before the division of the proceeds among the property owners.

That is, the general rule is that compensatory adjustments are appropriate for improvements that enhance the value of the property for all owners’ benefit. (see Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) An experienced Chico Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Kampa v. Superior Court (2018)

A lis pendens is a recorded document giving constructive notice that an action has been filed affecting title or right to possession of the real property described in the notice. (Urez Corp. v. Super. Ct., 235 Cal. Rptr. 837, 839 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1987)). A lis pendens may be filed by any party in an action who asserts a ‘real property claim.’ (CCP § 405.20.). The following paragraphs discuss how the Court of Appeal determines whether a trial court’s erred in denying a motion to expunge a lis pendens in Kampa v. Superior Court (2018) 2018 WL 3298029.

In Kampa, Rolf and Isabel Amanda Kampa (petitioners) challenged the trial court’s denial of their motion to expunge a lis pendens filed by Rick and Sofia Kampa (real parties) who were real parties in interest. The real parties had lost their home to foreclosure in 2009, and the petitioners purchased the home a few months later for the real parties to use as a residence. In exchange the real parties would pay the mortgage, or rent in the amount of the mortgage, and other costs.

The real parties alleged that this agreement arose from an oral agreement between the parties that in return for the real parties finding a suitable house, occupying it, and paying the mortgage, the petitioners would make the down payment and the parties would be co-owners and share 50/50 in proceeds from a future sale of the property. After the petitioners repudiated the agreement, the real parties ceased paying in August 2015, and refused to vacate.

The petitioners responded to this by filing an unlawful detainer action in March 2016 and a quiet title action in April 2016 predicated on their alleged ownership interest in the property based in turn on Rolf Kampa’s oral promises. They also filed the lis pendens that brought the appellate action. The unlawful detainer and quiet title actions were consolidated but were stayed pending the appellate petition. In the second amended complaint the petitioners dismissed the cause of action for quiet title but added a claim for promissory estoppel. Subsequently the causes of action for declaratory relief, breach of contract, fraud, constructive trust, and partition remained.

Eventually the petitioners filed a motion to expunge the lis pendens. After a briefing and a hearing, the trial court denied the motion. The petitioners appealed. The Court of Appeal for the Fourth District first summarily denied the petition in July 2017. The petitioners then went to the California Supreme Court who granted review and transferred the matter back to the Court of Appeal with instructions to vacate the denial and to issue an order directing the respondent Superior Court of San Bernardino County to show cause why the relief sought should be denied.

The Court of Appeal first addressed the merits of the case and noted that the petition did not articulate factual allegations other than those made by the real parties in their filings in the superior court. There was no attempt to show that the real parties’ allegations were false or inaccurate, but rather seemed to adopt the factual allegations as the real parties had presented them. As such, the court noted it would keep that framework in mind as it proceeded through its analysis.

The Court began it analysis by defining a lis pendens and how one may be filed by any party who asserts a ‘real property claim’ according to CCP § 405.20. The court continued by noting that CCP § 405.4 defines a real property claim as the cause of action in a pleading which would affect title to or the right of possession of specific real property and if the pleading filed by the claimant does not properly pleas a real property claim the lis pendens must be expunged upon motion under CCP § 405.31.

The petitioners argued three fundamental issues: (1) that the second amended complaint did not properly state a real property claim, (2) that the real parties could not establish the probable validity of their claim to a preponderance of the evidence, and (3) that the real parties failed to give proper notice of filing the lis pendens. The petitioners argued that the trial court erred in each of those contentions.

The Court of Appeal disagreed and did not find that the trial court had erred. To the first contention, the court noted that the petitioners asserted that the second amended complaint could not state a real property claim because of the statute of frauds. The court then goes on to say however that the doctrine of estoppel to plead the statute of frauds may be applied where necessary to prevent either unconscionable injury or unjust enrichment. (Riverisland Cold Storage, Inc. v. Fresno-Madera Prod. Credit Assn., 291 P.3d 316, 325 (Cal. 2013)). In other words, a proof of an intent not to perform this conduct is required.

Taking that into account, the Court of Appeal stated that the real parties made several pleadings that affected the title to or the right of possession of specific real property. Additionally, the real parties stated a claim for partition in the real property. A partition action may only be commenced and maintained by an owner of an estate of inheritance, an estate for life, or an estate for years in real property (CCP § 872.210). Accordingly, the petitioners were estopped from asserting that the real parties were not owners for a partition claim. Therefore, the real parties also stated a claim for real property in the form of a partition.

As to the probable validity of the claim, there were at least two substantial evidentiary documents supporting the probable validity of real parties’ two real property claims, Rick Kampa’s declaration and a text message from Rolf Kampa’s phone to Rick Kampa’s phone. The petitioners claimed that the text message was inadmissible but did not explain why or cite anything to support that contention. The text was authenticated by the declaration, and the parties did not claim it did not originate from Rolf, but rather that it should not be admitted. Considering that, the court found the validity of the real parties’ real estate claims to meet the preponderance of evidence test.

Lastly, as to notice, the petitioners focused on the omission of the introductory phrase “Notice of Pendency of Action for” from the title of the document to argue that the lis pendens was void and invalid because the proof of service did not identify the document as a notice of pendency but instead reflected service of a copy of the original complaint in the case. They did not however assert that they were never served with the notice of pendency.

The trial court had found that the real parties had substantially complied with the notice requirements in section 1013a. Noting its previous decision in Biddle v. Superior Court (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 135, the court had previously held notice valid when the plaintiff had substantially complied with the mailing requirement and the defendants had waived any defects. Here, the fact that the petitioners presumptively received the notice of lis pendens could be enough basis alone for the trial court to assume that they were properly served. However, beyond that, the record included a signed return of certified mail receipt for a delivery to Rolf Kampa and Isabel Amanda Kampa. This was enough for the Court of Appeal to view that the lis pendes was served on the petitioners. The Court of Appeal concluded by denying the writ of mandate and holding that the superior court did not err in its decision.

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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