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Oceanside Partition Lawyers

The City of Oceanside was originally inhabited by Native Americans. In 1769, the first Spanish explorers arrived, and the land became known for farming and grazing. It wasn't until the development of the railroads that the town started booming. Approximately 60% of Oceanside houses are owner occupied, which suggests that many homes are jointly owned. According to Redfin, in May 2023, Oceanside home prices were down 10.4% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $750K. On average, homes in Oceanside sell after 13 days on the market compared to 9 days last year. There were 149 homes sold in May this year, down from 203 last year.Residents of Oceanside who own real estate may face disputes with co-owners. Frequently, there are at least four common types of partitions actions for which an Oceanside Partition Attorney can provide sound counsel:

  • Investor-Investor shared ownership of property;
  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend share ownership of property;
  • Brother-Sister shared ownership of property; and
  • Parent-child shared ownership of property
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition action is an action brought by a co-owner of a piece of real property against another co-owner, seeking to divide the property according to the respective interests of the co-owners. In order to establish a right to a partition, a party must show that they have some ownership interest in the subject property. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 872.210, any owner of an estate of inheritance, an estate for life, or an estate for years in real property where such property or estate is owned by several persons concurrently or in successive estates may bring a partition action. (CCP § 872.210.) Therefore, a co-tenant has an absolute right to partition. (Formosa Corp. v. Rogers (1951), 108 Cal.App.2d 397.) At the Underwood Law Firm, our attorneys are more than familiar with partition actions and the step-by-step process of pursuing a partition.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. Virtually universally, the instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have 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 Oceanside Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Under the Partition of Real Property Act, the court instead appoints an appraiser to do the heavy lifting. The new statute states that the court “shall determine the fair market value of the property by ordering an appraisal.” (CCP § 874.316.) The court doesn’t have to be the one to order the appraisal, but this is only if all the co-owners agree to a different method of valuation.

If, however, an appraisal occurs, it shall be conducted by a disinterested third-party real estate appraiser licensed to determine the fair market value of properties. After the appraisal is conducted, parties may file objections to the value and can even offer additional evidence of value to the court.

After the valuation is complete, parties will be introduced to the key feature of the new statute: the buy-out option. If a co-owner requests a partition by sale, then the court will notify the other co-owners that they may buy all the interests of the cotenant that requested the partition. (CCP § 874.317.)

This is, essentially, a right of first refusal. The co-owners who don’t want the property sold now have the option to simply buy out the requesting party. Additionally, the buy-out price will be based on the property’s valuation, determined earlier in the litigation. And if one or more parties exercise the buy-out, then the court will reapportion ownership percentages based on the price paId. A top Oceanside 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 Oceanside Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Following the sale of the property, the referee will divide the proceeds of the sale among the parties in according to amounts expended for the "common benefit."

When the sale is confirmed by the court, the court may enter an order about the proceeds of sale. Under the law, the sale proceeds must be applied in a defined order. Specifically, Code of Civil Procedure section 873.820 states that the sale proceeds go towards (a) payment of expenses of the sale, (b) payment of the other costs of partition, (c) payment of any liens on the property in priority, (d) and distribution of the remainder to the parties in proportion to their shares as determined by the court.

Generally, the last part of the priority list includes what is commonly known as an "accounting" or a determination of whether one party has contributed more than their fair share to the property in the form of taxes, improvements, or other benefits for the property. For example, if one party is a 50% owner of the property, but has paid all of the property taxes for the property, then that property owner will have a claim for the remaining 50% above their interest in the property. An experienced partition lawyer will be able to help a co-owner determine their claims to the proceeds and make these arguments to the court in an effective way. An experienced Oceanside Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Sorensen v. Tran

Partition lawsuits can be full of complex issues. Many times, these issues can turn on payments and ownership. Parties must always be prepared to have the evidence to support their arguments, even if tracking payments or ownership changes can be difficult.

Additionally, proper support from legal authorities is essential. Merely asserting facts is not enough. Parties must be ready to apply the facts to both their legal support and their evidentiary support. If a party is lacking in either department, it could spell doom for the case.

The parties’ parents purchased the property at issue in Sorensen v. Tran (2021) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 2838497, located in San Diego. (Id., at 1.) A family dispute arose over ownership of the property, and Sorensen sued Tran for quiet title. (Id.)

In August 2015, the trial court for the quiet title action concluded that Sorensen owned 62.5 percent of the property, while Tran’s two children owned a combined 37.5 percent. (Id.) Tran appealed, and in February 2018, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. (Id.)

After that trial, Sorensen sued Tran’s two children for partition by sale of the property. (Id.) Sorensen later replaced Tran’s children with Tran on the complaint since Tran’s children had given Tran their property interests. (Id.)

In February 2019, the trial court ruled the property would be sold and the court would determine the sale proceeds distribution. (Id., at 2.) In June 2019, the trial court entered an interlocutory judgment of partition. (Id.) The trial court found that Tran was entitled to credit for her disproportionate payment of property taxes and that Sorensen was entitled to credit for her payment of the property’s insurance. (Id.) The trial court also concluded that neither party was entitled to credit or debit for repairs, improvements or destruction of the property. (Id.)

The trial court also stated it would make final adjustments after the sale and a hearing on adjustments. (Id.) After the property’s sale, the trial court set the hearing to determine allocation of the proceeds for November 2019. (Id.)

The trial court reiterated that there would be no discussion of entitlement to credit or debits for repairs, improvements or destruction of the property that was previously decided the parties were not entitled to. (Id.) The trial court took evidence for the parties’ claims for tax and insurance payments. (Id., at 3.) The trial court declined to accept the parties’ verbal testimony. (Id.)

The trial court awarded Tran a credit of 20,166.22 dollars and Sorensen a credit of 1,933.42 dollars for taxes they paid on the property. (Id.) The trial court credited Sorensen with 2,622 dollars for insurance. (Id.) Additionally, the trial court awarded attorney fees to Tran’s counsel. (Id.)

The trial court entered judgment according to these rulings, finding the relevant amounts to be expenditures made after August 20, 2015. (Id., at 4.) The trial court characterized expenditures made on the property before that date as gifts. (Id.) The trial court also denied Tran’s requests for alleged rental income received by Sorensen, to assess the parties for alleged vandalism on the property, and to be reimbursed for repairs. (Id.) Tran appealed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Sorensen is a cautionary tale about the danger of not providing sufficient support, both legal and evidentiary. In litigation, courts expect parties to provide both during arguments. Not having proper support in litigation is essentially a death sentence to one’s case.

Tran argued that the trial court abused its discretion in limiting the recoverable expenses to those incurred after August 2015. (Id., at 5.) Tran claimed that the mortgage, tax, and loan payments are typically reimbursed as partition expenses, and the trial court limited her evidence. (Id.)

The Court of Appeal found that the trial court did consider Tran’s evidence and did not prevent her from providing her evidence at trial. (Id.) Additionally, Tran could have appealed the trial court’s June 2019 interlocutory judgment but did not, which made her challenge on this issue untimely. (Id.)

Additionally, Tran did not provide sufficient evidence that the trial court abused its discretion or erred in declining to award her alleged payments towards the mortgage, repairs, or improvements. (Id.) Tran merely recited the facts and did not provide any evidence that the payments were necessary or increased the property’s value. (Id.)

Tran apparently failed to recognize that the trial court had authority to analyze the evidence and either make or decline awards. (Id.) Tran’s right to reimbursement depended on her own evidence, which the trial court rejected due to its questionable credibility. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court did not err on this issue. (Id.)

Next, Tran argued that the trial court erred in characterizing the payments she made before August 2015 as gifts. (Id., at 7.) Tran contended that the characterization was arbitrary. (Id.)

The trial court had a solid factual basis to rely on for its decision. (Id.) Before 2015, Tran made payments to the property believing she was the owner while she was not on the title. (Id.) Tran’s children assigned their property rights to Tran around 2017 or 2018. (Id.) Without a clear ownership interest in the property, the trial court concluded that Tran’s payments pre-August 2015 were gifts, and the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s reasoning. (Id.)

Finally, Tran argued that the trial court improperly applied res judicata, or the doctrine that a matter had already been decided and should not be litigated again, to decide against reimbursing her expenses she paid pre-August 2015. (Id.) There was, however, no evidence whatsoever that the trial court relied on res judicata. (Id.) Even if the trial court applied res judicata, Tran provided no legal support for why res judicata did not apply to this case. (Id.) The Court of Appeal disregarded this argument. (Id.)

Sorensen is illustrative of how easily a court can dismiss a case when there is insufficient evidence and insufficient legal support. At every turn, Tran could not supply the necessary evidence or legal support for her position. And at every turn, the Court of Appeal rejected Tran’s arguments.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in Sorensen, issues in a partition lawsuit can be sprawling and complex. It is vital that parties are prepared in any event for all arguments with proper legal and evidentiary support. Otherwise, courts do not have much patience for parties who do not come prepared.

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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Newport Beach, CA 92660

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