Moreno Valley Partition Lawyers

Moreno Valley is the second largest city in Riverside County, and was named Moreno, Spanish for brown. As a relatively new community, not incorporated until 1984, many citizens have flooded the area and ventured into joint ownership of property. Shared real estate ownership, however, sometimes leads to problems and headaches arising from disagreements between co-owners. In these times, speaking with a Moreno Valley Partition Lawyer is critical. An experienced Moreno Valley Partition Attorney find partition actions to be the best remedy for fighting co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Split building dispute;
  • Brother-Sister building dispute;
  • Investor-Investor building dispute; and
  • Girlfriend-Boyfriend building dispute
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 Moreno Valley Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Broadly, a partition action has only relatively simple steps. First, a party files a lawsuit to establish their rights to the property and desire to sell the property. Second, the court determines that the property should be sold, and appoints an appraiser to appraise the property and offer the other owner the opportunity to buy out the interest. Third, if the other fails to do so, then the Court appoints a “partition referee” (who is frequently a licensed Realtor) to sell the property, and they market and sell the property and deposits the proceeds into a trust account. Fourth, the court determines how much each party should receive from the proceeds, which should include addressing offsets and claims for contribution in an “accounting.” A top Moreno Valley 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 Moreno Valley 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. (Hunterv. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24.) An experienced Moreno Valley Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Demers v. Allen (2008)

After a court’s entry of an interlocutory judgement for partition has been appealed, how may the appellate court rule on the doctrine of laches and weigh competing arguments regarding the enforceability of an oral agreement? The answer largely depends on the particular facts of the case in question. The following paragraphs discuss how such circumstances affected the court’s judgment in Demers v. Allen (2008) 2008 WL 4381916.

In Demers, Karen Demers (“Plaintiff” or “Respondent”) sued Tina Allen (“Defendant” or “Appellant”) for partition of real property located in Highland, California (the “house”). After the trial court entered an interlocutory judgement in Karen’s favor, Tina appealed on the claim that Karen’s former husband (“Ben”), who had been Tina’s husband until his death prior to Karen’s partition action, never viewed Karen as a joint owner of the house. 

In 1975, Karen and Ben divorced after 18 years of marriage. Karen was awarded the family residence and Ben his automotive business. Two weeks after the divorce became final, Ben moved back into the family residence with Karen, where they resided together for another five years.

In 1980, Karen and Ben together acquired the house in Highland, taking title in joint tenancy “as husband and wife.” Despite their divorce, Ben continued to refer to Karen as his wife. Since the two made no agreement that their interests would be based upon their respective monetary contributions to the house, Karen understood that she and Ben each owned half of the house. After moving in, Karen and Ben shared the decisions and costs of making various improvements. Karen made most of the mortgage payments, using her earnings and rental income from the former family residence, while Ben paid other maintenance expenses.

Early in 1985, Karen vacated the house. Before moving out, Karen and Ben discussed selling the house but opted to wait until market conditions improved. Ben and Karen made an oral agreement that, when the house was ultimately sold, they would divide the net proceeds equally. They also agreed that Ben would stay in the house and take care of all expenses and maintenance, and that Karen would have no obligation to reimburse Ben for any portion of those payments.

After Karen moved out, consistent with their agreement, Ben made all of the payments and did not ask Karen for reimbursement. In 1992, Ben asked Karen to consent to a loan against the property, but Karen refused. Afterwards, Karen and Ben never discussed market conditions or selling the house.

In 1996, Ben deeded his interest in the property to himself as trustee of the J.B. Allen Family Trust, naming Karen and their daughters as beneficiaries. That year, Tina and Ben began dating. Tina then moved into the house with Ben. Tina and Ben married in 2001, and Ben named Tina as the primary beneficiary under the J.B. Allen Family Trust.

In July 2004, Karen received a letter from Ben's attorney, asking her to sign a quitclaim deed to the house. Ben had never previously claimed that Karen had no ownership interest in the house. Unbeknownst to Karen, Ben had borrowed $80,000 (in 2002) and $129,000 (in 2004) against the house. Karen contacted her attorney and refused to quitclaim the house “without payment ... for her interest.” That same month, by grant deed signed July 12 and recorded July 27, 2004, Ben severed the joint tenancy. Ben passed away two months later.

Karen filed her complaint for partition in 2005. In response, Tina asserted that the 1980 deed by which Karen acquired her interest in the house did not reflect Ben's true intent. Tina asserted that the 2004 grant deed severing the joint tenancy was not intended to affirm or ratify the earlier deed.

At trial, Karen asserted that there was no dispute that Karen and Tina each owned a one-half interest in the property. Karen asserted that Tina was not entitled to any reimbursement under Karen's and Ben's agreement that, while Ben lived there, he would pay for everything until the property was sold. Even if there were no agreement, Tina would at most be entitled to a credit of one-half of the principal paid towards the mortgages.

Tina argued that she was entitled to be reimbursed for all of the expenses paid and improvements made while she and Ben resided in the house, as well as Ben's contribution to the down payment. Tina challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the existence of the oral contract between Karen and Ben. She claimed that, without knowledge of the purported contract, it would be unfair to hold her to it.

 The trial court agreed with Karen and disagreed with Tina. The court held that Karen and Ben had made two contractual agreements: (1) at the time the property was acquired in 1980, and (2) at the time Karen moved out in 1985. A true joint tenancy was created between Karen and Ben when they acquired the property in 1980. When Karen moved out in 1985, the Karen and Ben had made an oral contract that Ben could remain in the house if he paid expenses and if the proceeds of the sale of the house were divided equally between him and Karen.

The court entered its interlocutory judgement in February 2007. Under this judgement, the court held that (1) Karen and Tina each owned, as tenants in common, an undivided one-half interest in the property; (2) sale of the property and division of the proceeds would be more equitable than division of the property; and (3) the appointed referee was authorized to sell the property at either public auction or private sale. The net proceeds, after payment of any expenses relating to the sale and payment to Bank of America under its trust deed, would then be divided with Tina to be charged with the entire amount due to Bank of America under its deed of trust. Tina appealed.

On appeal to the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, Tina contended (1) the right to partition should be denied because Karen was guilty of laches (unreasonable delay in asserting one’s rights); (2) the trial court's finding that Ben and Karen intended equal ownership was not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the trial court erred in relying upon an oral contract made in violation of the statute of frauds (requiring certain contracts to be evidenced in writing); (4) the trial court abused its discretion in disallowing Tina's claims for reimbursement and/or contribution; and (5) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting and relying upon unreliable expert testimony as to the house's fair rental value.

The Court of Appeal found no merit to any of Tina’s contentions. The Court held (1) even if the doctrine of laches applied, since the issue was never raised before the trial court, denying relief on laches would deprive Karen of a fair opportunity to meet the challenge; (2) substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that Karen and Ben each previously owned an equal undivided interest in the house; (3) the trial court did not err in enforcing the oral agreement between Karen and Ben; and (4) the trial court acted within its discretion in admitting and relying upon expert testimony offered on Karen's behalf as to the property's fair rental value.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgement and awarded Karen costs on appeal.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As we’ve seen, how an appellate court rules on the doctrine of laches and considers competing arguments regarding the enforceability of an oral contract depends on many different factors, such as whether laches was asserted before the trial court or whether substantial evidence exists to support the enforceability of the contract.

Our knowledgeable attorneys are available to help you navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding partitions. As there are many different ways to waive the right of partition, you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition, or if you are faced with defending against a partition lawsuit, then please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C. for an initial consultation.

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