Inland Empire Partition Lawyers

The Southern California “Inland Empire” are parts of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties that are east of Los Angeles. The U.S. Census Bureau found that the Inland Empire had a total population of about 4.6 million persons. The combined land areas of the counties of the Inland Empire are greater than West Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island. The Inland Empire includes the cities of Banning, Beaumont, Blythe, Calimesa, Canyon Lake, Cathedral City, Coachella, Corona, Desert Hot Springs, Eastvale, Hemet, Indian Wells, Indio, Jurupa Valley, La Quinta, Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Norco, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Perris, Rancho Mirage, Riverside, San Jacinto, Temecula, Barstow, Big Bear Lake, Chino Hills, Colton, Fontana, Hesperia, Loma Linda, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Rialto, San Bernardino, Upland, Victorville, Yucapia, and Yucca Valley. As the Inland Empire is a constantly growing region, the growth can lead to housing issues. In these situations, Inland Empire Partition Lawyers find that joint ownership problems fall into four broad categories:

  • Father/Mother-Son/Daughter tenants in common in real estate;
  • Brother-Sister shared tenants in common in real estate;
  • Investor-Investor shared tenants in common in real estate; and
  • Non-Married Partners shared tenants in common in real estate;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition lawsuit requires real estate to be sold regardless of the requests of the other title owners. The purpose of a partition action is to permanently end all disputes and remove all obstacles to the free enjoyment of land by one person. ( McGillivray v. Evans  (1864) 27 Cal.92.) These types of actions can be brought for all types of real estate from houses to farms to office buildings to apartment buildings. Similarly, partition actions are available all types of ownership situations from joint tenants to tenants-in-common to partnership property to property jointly owned by former spouses.

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 Inland Empire 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 Inland Empire Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Your 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 Inland Empire 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 Inland Empire Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Green v. Green-Jordan

How may a party’s decision to represent him or herself in court without an attorney lead to negative consequences in an action to partition real and personal properties? The answer largely depends on the particular facts of the case in question. The following paragraphs discuss how one party’s decision to forgo competent legal representation, as well as various blunders, affected the court’s judgment in Green v. Green-Jordan (2019) 2019 WL 4233918.

In Green , Walter Green (“Plaintiff” or “Respondent”) filed an action against his sister, Virniecia Green-Jordan (“Defendant” or “Appellant”) to partition real property (the “Property”) and a mobile home parked on the Property. The Property consisted of a 2.46-acre parcel of land located in Perris, California. The state of California held a judgment lien on the Property, for services rendered to the Walter and Virniecia’s father under the Medi-Cal Health Care Program. At the time of trial, Virniecia held title to the mobile home, which was located at the center of the Property.

Walter and Virniecia’s father had previously conveyed the Property to himself, Walter, and Virniecia as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. In 2006, however, Walter and Virniecia’s father passed away and title to the Property passed by operation of law to the other joint tenants, Walter and Virniecia. Walter and Virniecia’s father also left his children a will that named Virniecia as executor of his estate and left his estate to Walter and Virniecia in equal shares.

At a bench trial in 2018, Walter asserted causes of action to quiet title to the mobile home, to partition the Property and the mobile home, and for breach of fiduciary duty. Virniecia represented herself at trial pro se (without legal counsel). No witnesses testified at trial and a limited number of documents were admitted by stipulation. The trial court took judicial notice of some other documents, which were neither transmitted to the Court of Appeal nor included in the appellant's appendix pursuant to California Rules of Court. (See Cal. Rules of Court, rules 8.124(b) and 8.224.)

The trial court subsequently held that Walter and Virniecia were joint tenants on the Property and that the Property should be partitioned by sale. The court then entered an interlocutory judgment ordering that the Property be partitioned by sale. Notably, the trial court reserved all issues regarding the mobile home and the division of the proceeds of the sale.

Virniecia appealed the trial court’s interlocutory judgment. Virniecia contended that (1) Walter did not serve his trial brief in a timely manner; (2) the trial court erred by proceeding even though a petition to probate the parties' father's will was pending; (3) the trial court erroneously relied on an appraisal submitted by Walter; (4) the trial court failed to determine Virniecia's right to compensation for expenses of the Property; and (5) the trial court erred by ordering partition by sale rather than partition in kind.

On appeal, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed with Virniecia. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err in its interlocutory judgment and affirmed all of the lower court’s holdings.

Under the California Rules of court, an appellate brief must support any reference to a matter in the record by a citation to the volume and page number of the record where the matter appears. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.204(a)(1)(C).) If a party fails to support an argument with the necessary citations to the record, the argument will be deemed to have been waived.” (See Conservatorship of Kevin A. (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 1241, 1253.)

The Court of Appeal noted that, with few scattered exceptions, none of the facts that Virniecia asserted in her briefs were cited to the record. To support her motion to vacate the interlocutory judgment, Virniecia cited a memorandum of points and authorities that she filed after the bench trial. This was improper because the memorandum is not in evidence and had not been before the trial court when it made its ruling.

Although the Court of Appeal acknowledged that Virniecia had represented herself pro se , the law is clear that when a litigant is appearing pro se , he or she is entitled to the same, but no greater, consideration than other litigants and attorneys. Such litigants are held to the same restrictive rules of procedure as attorneys. (See County of Orange v. Smith (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 1434, 1444.)

First, the Court of Appeal rejected Virniecia’s contention that Walter did not serve his trial brief in a timely manner because Virniecia did not argue that Walter’s trial brief was untimely in the lower court. Without counsel, Virniecia had failed to understand that arguments not raised before the trial court are forfeited on appeal. Many of Virniecia’s other assertions failed on similar grounds.

Second, the Court of Appeal rejected Virniecia’s contention that the trial court erred by proceeding despite the facts that (a) her petition to probate her father’s will was still pending, and (b) Walter had sued her individually rather than as an executor of her father’s estate. Without counsel, Virniecia had failed to provide a reasoned explanation for either argument. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court had earlier determined that the Property had been in a joint tenancy, and thus the father's interest in the Property had passed to Walter and Virniecia outside of probate. Because of this, the trial court had correctly concluded that the probate proceeding was irrelevant to the Property and reserved issues on the mobile home.

Next, the Court of Appeal rejected Virniecia’s contentions that the trial court erred in its appraisal by using an estimate submitted by Walter, determination of her right to compensation for expenses, and order for partition by sale rather than partition in kind. Without counsel, Virniecia had failed to understand the trial court’s holdings, preserve her arguments for appeal, or provide reasoned arguments supporting each contention on appeal.

The Court of Appeal noted that Virniecia herself had provided the estimate used in the trial court’s appraisal, not Walter, and that she had not asked for an alternative appraisal method. The Court also determined that Virniecia had not been prejudiced because it was abundantly clear that the trial court intended to consider Virniecia's claims for reimbursement in a later phase of the partition process.

The Court of Appeal finally held that the trial court had properly ordered partition by sale rather than in kind. Under the circumstances, sale and division of the proceeds would have been more equitable than a physical division of the Property. This was because the Property would have been substantially less valuable when partitioned in kind than when partitioned by sale.

Without counsel, Virniecia had failed to provide specific dollar estimates showing otherwise or to account for the lien encumbering the Property. Virniecia had merely argued that sale would have been contrary to the wishes of her deceased father. Virniecia had failed to understand that partition as to concurrent interests in property is a right. (See Code Civ. Proc., § 872.710, subd. (b).) The trial court had correctly informed her, “[I]t doesn't matter what your father wanted. It doesn't matter what your father hoped the two of you might be able to agree to. Either of you ... have the right to get their half.”

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As we’ve seen, a party’s decision to represent him or herself in court without an attorney often leads to negative consequences in partition actions. As there are many different ways to waive the right of partition, and you are considering it as an option, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition action, or faced with defending one, then please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C. for an initial consultation.

Learn more here.

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