Mendocino County Partition Lawyers

Mendocino County is located on the North Coast of the U.S. state of California. Mendocino is Spanish for "of Mendoza”. The county is noted for its distinctive Pacific Ocean coastline, its location along California's "Lost Coast", Redwood forests, wine production, microbrews, and liberal views about the use of cannabis and support for its legalization. According to Redfin, In June 2023, Mendocino County home prices were down 12.3% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $526K. On average, homes in Mendocino County sell after 55 days on the market compared to 59 days last year. There were 52 homes sold in June this year, down from 82 last year. As a town with great historical roots, residents of Mendocino often own property with others due to inheritance, which can lead to disputes between co-owners. Generally, the best Mendocino County Partition Lawyers usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Family-owned real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Former romantic partners who jointly own real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Jointly owned real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Partnership real estate where only one party wants to sell;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition action is a lawsuit brought by a property owner seeking the court to force the sale of a jointly owned piece of real property. Typically, partition actions occur when co-owners of real estate have disputes about its ownership and use, and one of them seeks to end their ownership interest. That is, a partition action has no other purpose than to sever the unity of possession between cotenants in a piece of real property. (Rancho Santa Margarita v. Vail (1938) 11 Cal.2d 501, 539.) Currently, partition actions are governed by the provisions set forth in the Code of Civil Procedure section 872.010. These statutes set out a general process by which a property may be partitioned. 

Historically, the term "partition" comes from the basic word to break into "parts" as in physically dividing real estate in half. For example, if two siblings inherited ten acres of farmland, the property could historically be divided into five acres a piece for each of them. As most people now live in single-family homes, which cannot simply be "split in half," courts will instead order that the property be sold and the proceeds, or equity, be "split in half." The best Mendocino County 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 Mendocino County Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Section 874.040 gives courts only two options in apportioning the costs and fees of partition: by ownership interest or by some other equitable apportionment. (see Finney v. Gomez (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 527, 545 (Finney).) 

Notably, appellate courts have found the statutory language of Section 874.040 to give courts broad and equitable discretion. (Lin v. Jeng (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1008.) 

This sentiment that the record must support the allocation of attorney’s fees in an amount greater than disclosed by title is echoed in Stutz, where the appellate court held the trial court erred in apportioning 100% of the attorney’s fees and costs of a partition to the respondent. The appellate court recognized that trial courts are free to apportion fees and costs in an equitable manner yet held that the record must support such an arrangement in “any manner other than according to the respective interests of the parties in the property.” (Stutz, 122 Cal.App.3d 1, 5.) 

For example, where a party refuses to simply resolve the issue where the other party was willing to sell, then a court has the authority to order a different amount of fees than disclosed by title. (Forrest v. Elam (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 164, 174.) In other words, the resistance to selling the property may be a factor that a court considers in awarding attorneys’ fees in a partition action. A knowledgeable Mendocino County Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Before the sales proceeds are distributed among the parties, a court-ordered accounting will determine the charges and credits upon each co-owner’s interest. These credits are taken out of the net proceeds before the balance is divided equally. (Southern Adjustment Bureau, Inc. v. Nelson (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 539 (“Nelson”).) 

“When a cotenant makes advances from his own pocket to preserve the common estate, his investment in the property increases by the entire amount advanced. Upon sale of the estate, he is entitled to his reimbursement before the balance is equally divided.” (Nelson, 230 Cal.App.2d, at p. 541, citing William v. Koyer (1914) 168 Cal.369.)

As such, a party to a partition action must produce and gather their evidence and make sure that it is presented to the court so they can receive full credit for the value that they have added to the property. While a party may have a right to these credits under the law, ultimately, they will not be counted unless they can be presented in the proper form. An experienced Mendocino County Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

Partition Case Study: George v. Williams (2022): Remembering Key Deadlines

Deadlines in lawsuits are an essential aspect of the litigation process. Parties must always be aware of when they must file certain motions or papers. Otherwise, they may waive the ability to file those papers for the rest of litigation. For key litigation papers, missing the deadline may result in the court handing down an unfavorable judgment.

Even if a party misses a deadline due to some external factor, courts may still be lenient with the deadline if the party demonstrates diligence and good faith. Parties, however, must still have legal and evidentiary support for their positions and be reasonable. Courts will not take too kindly to meritless excuses.

What Led This Case to the Court of Appeal?

The property at issue in George v. Williams (2022) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 152195 was a single-family home. (Id., at 1.) Petrie and John Williams wanted to purchase this property, and asked Elizabeth George to help them buy it. (Id.) They joined in a written contract where George agreed to lend the Williamses money for the down payment. (Id.) The Williamses agreed to pay seven percent interest on the loan in the first year and ten percent interest in the following years, plus an additional bonus to George. (Id.)

George paid the down payment and bought the property in her name. (Id.) She also got a loan, secured by a deed of trust. (Id.) George then transferred ninety-nine percent ownership interest to herself as trustee of the Elizabeth L. George Revocable Trust. (Id.) The remaining one percent was given to Petrie as a tenant in common. (Id.) They planned for Petrie to refinance the property and eventually gain full ownership. (Id.)

The Williamses only paid for some of the interest they owed to George. (Id.) They also failed to make several mortgage payments, which George was forced to pay. (Id.) The Williamses also did not repay any of the down payment or refinance the loan. (Id.) Meanwhile, George paid for repairs to the property. (Id.)

Later, Petrie transferred her one percent to herself, John, and George as tenants in common. (Id.)

In October 2019, George sued the Williamses for partition, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (Id.) Petrie and John were served on November 19. (Id.) John was also served by mail the next day. (Id.) The Williamses did not file a response to the lawsuit. (Id.)

On January 8, 2020, the court entered default against the Williamses. (Id.) The Williamses were served with entry of default by mail the same day. (Id.)

On August 5, 2020, George mailed the Williamses an application for entry of default. (Id.) George supported her application with a declaration that had evidence attached. (Id.)

On August 12, 2020, the Williamses motioned to set aside the default. (Id.) They claimed that they did not receive the summons and the complaint until March 15. (Id.) John had apparently found the documents then in an abandoned car. (Id.) They also contended that the case management hearing was cancelled due to COVID-19, and the court clerk never gave them notice of the new date despite promising to do so. (Id.)

The trial court denied the Williamses’ motion to set aside the default, ruling that they failed to seek the motion within a reasonable time. (Id., at 2.)

On October 16, 2020, the trial court found George owned ninety-nine percent of the property as trustee. (Id.) The trial court also found that John, Petrie, and George owned the remaining one percent as tenants in common. (Id.)

The trial court issued an interlocutory judgment ordering a partition by sale and appointing a referee. (Id.) The trial court also ordered the Williamses to vacate the properties, and for George to be compensated for her unreimbursed expenses from the sale proceeds. (Id.) These unreimbursed expenses included the unpaid principal, the unpaid interest, the unpaid promised bonus, the unreimbursed mortgage payments, and the unreimbursed repair expenses. (Id.)

After the adjustments, the court ordered ninety-nine percent of the sale proceeds to be distributed to George and one percent of the proceeds to be distributed among John, Petre, and George equally. (Id.) The Williamses appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

George’s Holding: File on Time

George is a cautionary tale on failing to act reasonably upon a deadline. The Williamses had a deadline that was clearly laid out in the law. They failed to act within the deadline and had very little support for why they failed. As a result, the Williamses could not even present the merits of their case.

The Williamses argued that the trial court’s default judgment against them was a violation of their due process rights. (Id.) Usually, application for relief from default should be made within at least six months after entry of default. (Id.) The Williamses applied for relief more than six months after default was entered. (Id.)

To support their argument, the Williamses relied on a Ventura County Superior Court Administrative Order responding to COVID-19. (Id.) The administrative order closed the clerk’s office from April 15 through May 12, 2020. (Id.) Additionally, the order treated the days of March 16 to May 12, 2020, as court holidays. (Id.) This meant that those days were not counted towards the timeline for filing papers. (Id.)

According to a California statute, if the last day of a deadline for filing papers is a holiday, then the deadline is extended to the next day that is not a holiday. (Id., at 3.) The statute does not, however, allow the party to extend the time limit if there are holidays before the last day. (Id.) The trial court ruled that the motions were not filed within the required six-month period, and the Court of Appeal agreed. (Id.)

Furthermore, the trial court also ruled that the Williamses failed to diligently seek to vacate the default. (Id.) Even if the Williamses truly did not receive notice of the default until March 15, they still waited five months before seeking relief. (Id.) The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

The Williamses then argued that the trial court denied their due process rights because the trial court did not hold a case management hearing. (Id.) The Williamses cited no legal authority for their position, however, and the Court of Appeal rejected this argument. (Id.)

Next, the Williamses argued that the trial court did not properly establish each co-owner's interest, making the partition order defective. (Id.) After default, the trial court considered George’s declaration and the evidence she attached. (Id., at 4.) The evidence demonstrated the parties’ respective ownership interests as tenants in common. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err in deciding each co-owner's interest. (Id.)

Finally, the Williamses contended that George committed fraud. (Id.) The Williamses claimed that George misled the court by not disclosing all the payments the Williamses made and recording title documents that only gave them a one percent interest. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that the Williamses gave up their right to present evidence because they defaulted. (Id.) The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment in full. (Id.)

George illustrates how important deadlines are in litigation. Failure to meet a deadline could effectively kill one’s case. Though there are legal excuses for lateness in litigation, the party must provide support for those excuses. This requires careful reading of statutory language and case law. Otherwise, a court can dismiss the case entirely.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in George, parties must always be mindful of the various deadlines in litigation. Any misstep in managing deadlines could potentially be fatal for a party’s chances in court. While there are ways for parties to excuse tardiness, strong legal arguments are necessary for such an excuse to succeed.

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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