Kern County Partition Lawyers

Kern County spans the southern end of California’s Central Valley, and is home to the city of Bakersfield. The economy of Kern County is heavily linked to agriculture and to petroleum extraction, and the military, including Edwards Air Force Base, China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, and the Mojave Air and Space Port. According to Redfin, in May 2023, Kern County home prices were up 1.3% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $361K. On average, homes in Kern County sell after 26 days on the market compared to 16 days last year. There were 706 homes sold in May this year, down from 934 last year. Generally, the best Kern County Partition Lawyers usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Partnership owned 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 Kern 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 Kern County Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Mediate a Partition Action?

Generally, anyone considering filing a lawsuit should consider all of their alternatives, including an informal resolution of the problem. This can take the form of a discussion with the other owner or owners about agreeing to sell the property, negotiating with the co-owner to create a formula to divide the proceeds from the sale, or retaining a lawyer to engage in a mediation with the other owners.

Throughout the partition process, and even on the day of trial, any of the owners can make an agreement about the sale of the property. This can happen through a phone call, through negotiations between the parties' lawyers, or through a mediation session with a retired judge or trained mediator. There are many benefits from a mediation session, including confidentiality provisions contained in the law in Evidence Code sections 1115 through 1129.

Specifically, Evidence Code section 1119, subdivision (a), provides "no evidence of anything said or any admission made for the purpose of, in the course of, or pursuant to, a mediation or a mediation consultation is admissible or subject to discovery, and disclosure of the evidence shall not be compelled in any arbitration, administrative adjudication, civil action, or other noncriminal proceeding in which, pursuant to law, testimony can be compelled to be given." A knowledgeable Kern County Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Under the law, a property owner can make a claim for contribution for anything that they have expended for the common benefit of all the parties as it relates to their jointly-owned property. Code of Civil Procedure section 874.410 states that “the court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustment among the parties according to the principles of equity.” For example, the credits can include expenditure in excess of the co-tenants fractional share for necessary repairs and improvements that enhance the value of the property. (Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) Similarly, payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be the subject of a reimbursement claim. (Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24.) An experienced Kern County Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Hofmann v. Hofmann

Lawsuits can generate multiple legal issues that the parties must address. Even when a party files a partition action, with partition as the ultimate end goal, there can be many legal matters that can progress throughout the lawsuit. The issue may be procedural or more factually based, but parties must always be prepared.

Such lawsuits can be further complicated when there are multiple parties and legal complaints. The legal issues and complications can multiply until the partition aspect of the lawsuit becomes the least of one’s worries. It is vital for parties to not be caught off-guard during litigation proceedings by a legal matter that may not be related to partitions.

The Hofmanns owned the property at issue in Hofmann v. Hofmann (2021) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 2980582, which contained a residential home and over forty acres of farmland. (Id., at 1.) Erich and Lois Hofmann were married with three children: Michael, Gary, and Shannon. (Id., at 2.) Erich and Lois each owned a quarter of the property. (Id.) Erich’s brother, Eugene Hofmann, owned another quarter of the property, while Eugene’s wife, Phyllis, owned the remaining quarter. (Id.) The property consisted of five parcels with farmland on all five, and three parcels containing a residence. (Id.)

In December 1975, Erich died and left a will that created the EH Trust. (Id.) Lois and Michael were co-trustees of the EH Trust, and Michael later became the sole trustee after Lois died in 2015. (Id.) Lois became a fifty percent owner of parcel five, and the EH Trust had a twenty-five percent interest in parcels one through four. (Id.) Lois received the EH trust’s entire net income during her lifetime in accordance with the trust’s terms, with the remaining estate to be distributed between Michael, Sharon, and Gary when Lois died. (Id.)

In November 1991, Phyllis died, and her interest in parcels one through four was left in her testamentary trust, the PH Trust. (Id.) Eugene became a fifty percent owner of parcel five. (Id.) Later, Eugene quitclaimed his entire interest to the PH Trust, leaving the PH Trust as a fifty percent owner of the property. (Id.)

In the spring of 1994, Eugene, individually and as a trustee of the PH Trust, transferred all of his rights and interest of ownership in the property to Lois in exchange for a fifty percent interest in another property on E. Lone Tree Road. (Id.) At that point, Lois individually owned three-fourths of parcels one through four and the entirety of parcel five, while the EH Trust owned the remaining one-fourth interest in parcels one through four. (Id.) A contract was written to memorialize this transaction, and Michael approved the transaction. (Id.)

In September 1994, Lois established the LH Trust, and she quitclaimed her entire interest in the property to the LH Trust the next month. (Id., at 3.) Afterwards, the LH Trust owned three-fourths of the property while the EH Trust owned one-quarter of the property. (Id.) Before Lois died, she amended the LH Trust to forgive a debt Michael owed, bequeath money to Sharon, and left the rest of the trust estate to Sharon and Gary. (Id.)

In 2013, Lois applied for a lot line adjustment that would allow for separate ownership of the farmland and the residence. (Id.) The purpose of the lot line adjustment was to increase the property’s value and potentially give the residence to Michael. (Id.) Michael and Lois had discussed the possibility of him buying the property or the residence, but they could not reach an agreement. (Id.)

The County approved the lot line adjustment, and Lois signed the certificate in May 2014. (Id.) The adjustment was not perfected though because Michael refused to sign the conforming deeds. (Id.)

In March 2014, Lois agreed to sell her seventy-five interest in the farmland part of the property to the Brichetto family. (Id.) The purchase agreement called for a parcel split, and the Brichetto’s made all the necessary payments under the purchase agreement. (Id.)

Sharon and Gary also agreed to sell of their interests in the farmland, held by the EH Trust, to the Brichettos. (Id.) A parcel split was also required for this agreement. (Id.) Additionally, the lot line adjustment needed to be perfected for the sale to go through. (Id.)

In August 2014, Michael sued Lois, seeking information and an accounting on the EH Trust’s assets. (Id.) Michael later dismissed this lawsuit in March 2015. (Id.)

In July 2015, Sharon became the LH Trust’s named trustee. (Id.) Lois passed away the next month. (Id.) In October 2015, Sharon executed a deed of trust to convey seventy-five percent of the entire property to the Brichettos, with the understanding that the Brichetto’s would deed the residence to Sharon. (Id.) At this point, because the lot line adjustment had not been perfected, the farmland and the residence were not separated. (Id.) John Brichetto gave Sharon a note stating that he would reconvey legal title of the residence to her once the issues with Michael were resolved. (Id.)

Michael had been living in the residence continuously since 1982. (Id.) In the 1990’s, Michael paid various amounts for rent, and in 2005 he paid 500 dollars per month for rent. (Id.) In 2013, Lois raised the rent to 1,000 dollars, which Michael refused to pay, and he continued to only pay 500 dollars per month. (Id.) After Lois passed away in 2015, Michael lived at the residence rent free. (Id.)

After buying the farmland, the Brichetto’s made improvements to the property. (Id., at 5.) The Brichettos planted a walnut orchard, and John Brichetto testified about the costs of the walnut orchard at trial. (Id.)

In June 2016, Sharon and Gary, as beneficiaries of the EH Trust, sued Michael as trustee of the EH Trust. (Id.) Sharon and Gary alleged that Michael failed in his duty to distribute the EH Trust’s interest in the property to them as the beneficiaries. (Id.)

In October 2016, Michael cross-complained against Sharon, Gary, and the Brichettos. (Id.) Afterwards, the Brichettos cross-complained against Michael, Sharon, and Gary, seeking a partition of the property among other claims. (Id.)

In February 2017, Michael filed an amended cross-complaint against Sharon, Gary, and the Brichettos. (Id., at 6.) Michael alleged the 1994 deed Eugene executed was erroneous. (Id.) The trial court found that Michael’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations. (Id.)

In October 2017, Sharon and Gary filed a new amended petition based on a newly discovered “Contract for the Exchange of Real Property” Michael signed for the 1994 transaction. (Id.) Michael filed a further amended cross-complaint two months later. (Id.) Michael admitted the signature on the newly discovered contract was his, but claimed he signed without being fully informed. (Id.) Michael argued for a constructive trust claim, contending that Sharon, Gary, and the Brichettos were asserting a right to the property greater than they were entitled to which were obtained through fraud or mistake. (Id.)

The Brichettos, Sharon, and Gary demurred to the constructive trust claim, arguing that it was barred by the statute of limitations since the claim was about the 1994 transaction. (Id.) In February 2018, the trial court sustained the demurer without leave to amend. (Id.)

The bench trial began in June 2018, and the trial court decided to first try special affirmative defenses that Sharon, Gary, and the Brichettos raised in response to Michael’s cross-complaint. (Id.) The trial court found that none of Michael’s claims in the cross-complaint survived. (Id., at 8.)

In July 2019, the trial court ordered Michael to sign the documents perfecting the lot line adjustments and to distribute the EH Trust’s assets according to its terms. (Id.) The trial court also ordered surcharging Michael for rent for the time after Lois’s death. (Id., at 9.)

For the partition, the trial court ordered a partition by sale as two separate parcels, the residence and the farmland. (Id.) The trial court ruled that the Brichettos were entitled to credit from the proceeds of the farmland’s partition sale due to the improvements they made to the property. (Id.) The trial court also concluded that the Brichettos were entitled to recover litigation costs from Michael, including attorney fees. (Id.) The trial court entered an interlocutory judgment accordingly in July 2019. (Id.) Michael appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part. (Id., at 2.)

Michael first argued that the trial court improperly denied him leave to amend. (Id., at 10.) Michael, however, failed to show how his allegations avoided the statute of limitations. (Id., at 11.) The clock for the statute of limitations began running in 1994, when Lois transferred the EH Trust’s interest in the property to the LH Trust. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that Michael’s claim was properly barred. (Id., at 14.)

Michael also took issue with the trial court’s ruling on his claim for breach of fiduciary duty he brought against Sharon, although this challenge was unclear to the Court of Appeal. (Id., at 15.) Once again though, the Court of Appeal ruled that Michael’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations since he brought the claim against Sharon as trustee of the LH Trust more than one year after Lois’s death. (Id., at 18.)

Next, Michael argued that the trial court took his prior inconsistent statement as a binding judicial admission. (Id.) The statement was when Michael said the EH Trust held a fifty percent interest when Michael knew that the EH Trust actually only held a twenty-five percent interest. (Id.) The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court used Michael’s statement to show his knowledge of the property’s title, not as a binding judicial admission, which was proper. (Id., at 19.)

Michael also challenged the trial court’s ruling on surcharging him rent. (Id.) The trial court stated three alternate legal grounds for surcharging, and Michael only addressed two of those grounds on appeal. (Id., at 20.) The Court of Appeal held that Michael forfeited this argument by failing to address the trial court’s third alternate basis. (Id.)

Additionally, Michael argued that Sharon and Gary were not entitled to rent. (Id., at 21.) Michael, however, never provided legal support or explained how the trial court’s ruling on this issue was erroneous. (Id.)

Michael then contended that the rent surcharge amount was inflated and not within the value of the residence. (Id.) At trial, Michael presented no evidence of the residence’s fair value. (Id.) The trial court based its calculations on Sharon and Gary’s expert witness. (Id.) This expert witness testified on the approximate rental values of the residence, which the trial court found persuasive. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err. (Id., at 23.)

Michael next argued that the trial court improperly assessed the credits for improvements of the property. (Id.) Michael complained that the Brichettos’ evidence on costs were estimates. (Id.) The trial court found the Brichettos’ evidence to be reasonable, credible, and made in good faith. (Id.) The Brichettos’ improvement through the walnut orchard also increased the value of the property. (Id., at 27.) The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in awarding credit for all of their improvements, and the Brichettos should only have been awarded credit for the walnut orchard. (Id., at 28.)

Michael also sought credits the trial court denied him for several alleged improvements he made to the property. (Id.) For many of these improvements, the trial court did not find Michael’s testimony or evidence to be persuasive or credible. (Id.) The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment on Michael’s credits for improvements. (Id., at 31.)

Next, Michael argued that the trial court forced him to sign the lot line adjustment. (Id., at 32.) The trial court, however, ordered Michael to execute the conforming deeds to distribute the property. (Id.) The trial court did not “force” Michael to sign the lot line adjustment, but it was using its authority to compel Michael to execute the deeds to conform with the court’s judgment, and the court could appoint someone else to sign if Michael refused. (Id.)

Michael also seemed to ignore the numerous legal authorities the trial court cited to support its order. (Id.) The trial court was also exercising its authority and discretion to get the highest possible sales price for the property from a partition sale. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court’s order directing Michael to sign documents was proper. (Id., at 33.)

Michael also challenged the attorney fees awarded to Sharon, Gary, and the Brichettos. (Id.) The Court of Appeal found that it lacked jurisdiction over Sharon and Gary’s attorney fees, so it dismissed that portion of the appeal. (Id.)

Generally, courts are required to apportion costs of partition in proportion to the parties’ interest in any other equitable manner. (Id., at 36.) The costs of partition include reasonable attorney fees incurred for the common benefit. (Id.)

Michael argued that the trial court erred in not fixing the amount of attorney fees before apportioning them, and the trial court should have to justify the amount of attorney fees awarded. (Id., at 37.) There is no requirement, however, for the trial court to explain its reasoning. (Id.) The record showed that the trial court properly examined the evidence anyways. (Id., at 38.) The Court of Appeal held that the trial court’s judgment on the issue was presumed correct because there was no factual support for Michael’s claims. (Id.)

The Court of Appeal also upheld the trial court’s apportionment of half of the Brichettos’ attorney fees to Michael. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that there was sufficient evidence of Michael continuing to argue a legally meritless position, and that the Brichettos should be compensated for defending against these meritless challenges. (Id., at 39.)

Hofmann is illustrative of the multitude of issues that can arise from a partition lawsuit. In many cases, the partition aspect of the case can be the simplest issue to resolve. There may be numerous procedural or other legal matters that parties will argue over, especially if there are other claims related to the property.

Hofmann shows how a party unprepared for multiple issues may flounder on appeal. On many of Michael’s arguments, he did not provide the proper legal support or evidence. Parties must be ready for anything to happen in litigation, no matter what type of lawsuit they originally filed.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in Hofmann, issues in a partition lawsuit can be sprawling and complex. A partition lawsuit could only be a small part in the grand scheme of things. Other legal issues may take precedence during the litigation process. It is vital that parties are prepared in any event for all arguments with proper legal and evidentiary support.

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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