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Chino Hills Partition Lawyers

Chino Hills (Chino, Spanish for "Curly") is a city located in the southwestern corner of San Bernardino County, California, United States. The city borders Los Angeles County on its northwest side, Orange County to its south and southwest, and Riverside County to its southeast. Prior to the colonization of the area by the Spanish Empire in the late 18th century, the Tongva village of Wapijanga was the major point of influence in what would become referred to as Chino Hills. The village was an important point of connection between the Tongva and Serrano. Today Chino Hills is home to 78,411 residents. According to Redfin, In June 2023, Chino Hills home prices were up 10.2% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $970K. On average, homes in Chino Hills sell after 24 days on the market compared to 21 days last year. There were 41 homes sold in June this year, down from 62 last year. Chino Hills residents who own real estate may face disputes with co-owners. There are at least four types of situations where a Chino Hills 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?

Partitions are lawsuits that split up the property between multiple co-owners so that each can take their equity out of the home. The prototypical partition are between siblings, former romantic partners, or business partners. Both own parts of the property, but only one wants to end the relationship and take their money out. Partitions enable this to happen, usually ending with a court-ordered sale of the subject property.

Basically, any person who is an owner of real estate can bring a partition action in California. Code of Civil Procedure section 872.710, subdivision (a), states "A partition action may be commenced and maintained by any…owner of…such property." California Civil Code section 872.210 provides a property owner with the "absolute right to partition" absent a valid waiver. Thus, a partition action can be brought by anyone who no longer wants to own jointly owned real estate, other than spousal property.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. The instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have generally 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 Chino Hills 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 Chino Hills Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Mediate a Partition Action? 

A partition action can always be resolved informally at any time prior to the first day of trial, or entry of judgment. In fact, in numerous instances, just filing the partition itself leads the other party to seek a resolution between them. We always encourage the parties to talk throughout every phase of the process, as that can lead to the best outcomes for everyone.

From our perspective, every piece of litigation is just part of a larger “negotiation.” In any negotiation, the party who has the best leverage is usually able to achieve a more favorable outcome. The lawsuit provides the client with more leverage because they have more options available to them than without the prospect of a resolution from a judge. As such, all that a lawsuit does is provide one party with more leverage in the negotiation about how to resolve the dispute. For this reason, the best way to informally resolve a dispute is to combine discussions with active litigation, so that the matter can be quickly resolved without unnecessary expense. Throughout the process, our attorneys are in touch with our clients about their options and the prospects for informal resolution through mediation or negotiation. A knowledgeable Chino Hills 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 Chino Hills Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Goss v. Corcoran (2020): Power of the Courts

Judges often have expansive powers in their courtrooms and take whatever actions they see as necessary to progress or rule on the case. In court, what the judge orders must be followed, although parties can object and motion for alternative outcomes.

Even with the widespread powers that judges possess, they are limited by the law and by the evidence. Just like the parties, judges must have legal and evidentiary bases for their rulings. Otherwise, their decisions will come under fire on appeal.

What Led This Case to the Court of Appeal?

The property at issue in Goss v. Corcoran (2020) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 879397 was real property co-owned by Jacqueline Corcoran and Bruce Goss as joint tenants. (Id., at 1.) Corcoran and Goss lived together at the property from 1984 to 2002. (Id.) In 2012, Corcoran sued Goss but this lawsuit was dismissed before it got to trial. (Id.)

Goss filed a cross-complaint for partition of the property. (Id.) Goss claimed that he and Corcoran took title to the property from a quitclaim deed in June 1984, but Corcoran failed to record the quitclaim deed until 2012. (Id.)

Litigation progressed to discovery. (Id.) In his responses to requests for admissions, Goss admitted that the parties held the property as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. (Id.) Goss also admitted the parties did not have an agreement that Corcoran would reimburse Goss for expenditures on the property. (Id.)

At trial, Goss testified that Montgomery, the property’s grantor in 1984, bought the property on behalf of Goss and Corcoran while also encumbering the property with loans. (Id.) In 1984, the parties agreed that Goss would pay off the loans. (Id.) Goss claimed multiple people contributed to the down payment, including Goss himself. (Id.)

After Montgomery bought the property, he quitclaimed it to Goss and Corcoran. (Id.) Goss took possession of the quitclaim deed. (Id.)

Goss and Corcoran agreed to be equal owners of the property with the right to survivorship. (Id.) Goss and Corcoran lived on the property together until 2002, when Corcoran moved out. (Id.)

Goss testified that he made all the payments on the loans, the insurance, the taxes, and utilities for the property. (Id.) Goss also described to the court various improvements he constructed on the property while he was living there with Corcoran. (Id.) Goss never discussed with Corcoran how proceeds would be distributed in the event of a sale. (Id., at 2.)

Corcoran testified that her mother contributed to the down payment and advised them to take title as joint tenants. (Id.) After Montgomery executed the quitclaim deed Corcoran gave the deed to her mother to put in a safe. (Id.) When Corcoran’s mother became ill in 2000, Corcoran recovered the quitclaim deed. (Id.) Corcoran stated that she helped with some of the improvements on the property. (Id.)

Montgomery received no compensation for helping Goss and Corcoran. (Id.) Montgomery trusted Goss to make the loan payments and he was generally unconcerned about the debt. (Id.) Montgomery signed the quitclaim deed and gave it to the real estate agent. (Id.) Montgomery believed the real estate agent delivered the deed first to Corcoran and Goss, and then the deed passed to Corcoran’s mother. (Id.)

After the attorneys made closing arguments, the trial court issued its tentative views on the issues in the case. (Id.) The trial court believed that Montgomery had not intended to transfer the title to Goss and Corcoran until 2008 when the loans were paid. (Id.) The trial court also found that the property was held in joint tenancy with the right to survivorship. (Id.)

The trial court issued a tentative ruling in a minute order affirming its tentative views. (Id.) The trial court also found that partition by sale was required, and Goss had substantially increased the value of the property with his improvements. (Id.)

The trial court admitted that there was no evidence of the property’s value, but the trial court still personally determined the value added based on the appearance of the structures on the property. (Id.) Based on the trial court’s assessment, the trial court ordered Goss to be credited $52,500 after the property was sold, with the remaining sale proceeds distributed equally. (Id.)

Corcoran objected to the court's tentative ruling. (Id., at 3.) Goss filed a proposed statement of decision, to which Corcoran also objected. (Id.) The trial court signed Goss’s proposed statement of decision and entered its judgment. (Id.)

In the trial court’s statement of decision, the trial court found that the sale resolved through Montgomery, the deed was immediately delivered to Corcoran’s mother, and the deed was delivered to Corcoran after all the loans were paid. (Id.) The trial court also concluded that Goss was entitled to credit for his improvements because he was a good faith improver, a legal ground that had not been stated before. (Id.)

The trial court ordered a partition by sale, and Corcoran appealed. (Id.) The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment. (Id., at 1.)

Goss’s Holding: Following the Evidence and the Law

First, the Court of Appeal concluded that Goss was not a good faith improver. (Id., at 4.) For someone to be a good faith improver, they must make improvements to the property with the erroneous belief that they are an owner of the property. (Id.) California law requires the party seeking relief as a good faith improver to assert the basis of the claim in the pleading. (Id.) Goss made no such assertions. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held the trial court’s ruling that Goss was a good faith improver had no legal basis. (Id.)

Furthermore, the Court of Appeal ruled the facts raised at trial did not support the trial court’s ruling that Goss was a good faith improver. (Id.) Goss and Corcoran consistently testified that they obtained the deed the day it was signed, and the deed was subsequently held by either Corcoran or her mother. (Id.) Montgomery also testified that he immediately gave up the deed to Goss and Corcoran. (Id.)

Nobody at trial said that Montgomery intended to pass on the title only after the loans were paid. (Id.) Though the trial court came to this conclusion, it contradicted all the prior evidence. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that title passed upon delivery of the deed. (Id.) The Court of Appeal concluded that Goss was not a good faith improver because Goss and Corcoran, not Montgomery, were the owners of the property. (Id.)

The trial court also held there was an alternate ground to Goss’s award, which was that there was a true joint tenancy and the parties never agreed to a reimbursement. (Id., at 5.) The trial court applied the statute Section 873.220 to justify its holding. (Id.) Section 873.220 allowed trial courts to make equitable adjustments in partitions among tenants in common. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held, however, that the statute did not apply to joint tenants, and so rejected this alternate ground of argument for Goss’s award (Id.)

Next, the Court of Appeal concluded that there was no evidence for the trial court’s award to Goss. (Id., at 6.) The trial court’s evaluation was not based on any testimony from the owners or from experts. (Id.) The only evidence the trial court had was for costs of the improvements, not of value added to the property. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that with no evidence, the trial court’s finding for Goss’s award had no basis. (Id.)

Corcoran argued that Goss should not be allowed to buy the property at an appraised price. (Id.) The trial court had ordered the property to be sold at fair market value with the parties having 60 days to exercise a purchase option. (Id.) If either party exercised this purchase option, the partition referee would choose an appraiser to determine the property’s value. (Id.) If neither party exercised the option, then the property would be sold at fair market value. (Id.)

Corcoran argued that the trial court’s procedure failed to comply with California law. (Id.) Under California law, a partition by appraisal requires both parties to consent. (Id.) In this case, the trial court’s order did not require both Goss and Corcoran to consent to a partition by appraisal. (Id., at 8.) The Court of Appeal agreed with Corcoran and reversed the trial court’s order. (Id.)

Goss shows how courts must still act in accordance with the evidence and the law. Courts cannot simply make up their own standards to come to the conclusion they want. Even though judges often have broad and extensive powers in the courtroom, the law still places restrictions on those powers to protect the parties from judicial overreach.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in Goss, while judges may have wide-ranging power in the courtroom, they must still follow the evidence and the law just like everyone else. Decisions that are not backed up by the proper legal authorities and relevant evidence are likely to be overturned on appeal. Courts must use the standards outlined in the law and the evidence presented to guide their decisions, and they are not empowered to make determinations outside of those boundaries.

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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