Ontario Partition Lawyers

Ontario is the county seat of San Bernardino County, was named for the province of Ontario in Canada and was settled in 1882 by George and William Chaffey. As a city with agricultural roots, residents often find themselves in shared ownership of parcels of real estate. When deciding to go separate ways, owners may dispute their interests in a shared property, arguing that one contributed to its development more than the other and vice versa. In these times, the guidance of an Ontario Partition Lawyer is invaluable. An experienced Ontario Partition Attorney often finds disputing joint owners in the following categories:

  • Split owned land where one party wants to sell;
  • Brother-Sister land where only one party wants to sell; 
  • Investor-Investor land where only one party wants to sell; and
  • Girlfriend-Boyfriend land where only one party wants to sell;
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 Ontario 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 Ontario 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 Ontario 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 Ontario Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Douglas v. Edwards

Partitions lawsuits can often contain claims that are not just about partitions, even if the claims are relevant to the property. Oftentimes, there will be material issues of fact that a court must resolve, and this may involve passing judgment on certain claims first. Sometimes, this can even affect how a partition is distributed.

When there are multiple claims in a case, that case inevitably becomes more complex. This means that parties must adjust their strategies and adapt to the way the wind is blowing. Even if parties get the partition that they want, their other claims in the lawsuit could be endangered without a change of tact.

The property at issue in Douglas v. Edwards (2015) WL 1870088, was a ten acre undeveloped parcel of land that had several owners. (Id., at 1.) Two of the owners were Scott Douglas and his wife Lisa. (Id.) Another owner was Whitney Edwards, Lisa’s best friend who rode horses with her. (Id.) The Douglases paid the down payment and Edwards agreed to pay most of the monthly mortgage payments. (Id.) Kathleen Douglas, Scott’s mother, helped in the purchase by obtaining financing. (Id.) Scott and Lisa together owned a one-fourth interest, Kathleen owned a one-fourth interest, and Edwards owned a one-half interest. (Id.)

Scott, Lisa, and Edwards agreed that the cost of home construction would be made only by the party who would live in the home. (Id., at 2.) Additionally, the cost of caring for any horses would be made only by the party who owned the horse. (Id.) The parties agreed, however, that cost of infrastructure improvements to the land would be shared equally. (Id.) These arrangements were not written down. (Id.)

Eventually, Lisa and Edwards’s friendship broke down. (Id.) In 2009, Edwards stopped making the monthly mortgage payments, which Lisa and Scott took over. (Id.)

In 2011, the Douglases sued Edwards with numerous claims, including a partition by sale. (Id.) Edwards filed a cross-complaint with multiple claims, though she agreed with the partition by sale. (Id.) The trial court decided to divide the parties’ claims into two categories to be tried at different times: legal and equitable. (Id.) The trial court ruled that it would try the equitable claims first, and then move the legal claims to a jury trial. (Id.)

At trial for the equitable claims, the Douglases claimed they were partners with Edwards, while Edwards contended that they were only cotenants. (Id., at 3.) The trial court held that, rather than partners or cotenants, the Douglases and Edwards were participating in a joint venture. (Id.) As such, the trial court issued an interlocutory, or temporary, judgment of partition by sale, but allowed the Douglases a thirty-day window to exercise their right to be the first to purchase Edwards’s ownership interest. (Id.) Both parties appealed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

The Douglases first argued that the trial court erred in deciding to hear the equitable claims before the legal claims. (Id.) The trial court decided to hear the equitable claims first based on efficiency of time and money. (Id., at 4.) Additionally, the trial court’s ruling on the equitable claims would be binding on the jury deciding the legal claims, reducing the risk of any inconsistent findings. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court did not err in hearing the equitable claims first. (Id., at 5.)

Next, the Douglases argued that the trial court should not have issued an interlocutory judgment of partition before the legal claims were decided because it was unfair. (Id.) By law, however, the trial court was required to enter an interlocutory judgment of partition once they found that the plaintiffs were entitled to partition. (Id.) Additionally, the Court of Appeal held that the judgment was not unfair because the trial court could address any unequitable distributions in the next phase of the trial with a final judgment. (Id.) The Douglases also argued that the trial court improperly applied the partition, but the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court followed the proper procedures. (Id., at 6.)

The Douglases then claimed that the trial court should have given them a right of first refusal, which was part of an alleged partnership agreement regarding what would happen if a partner sold their interest. (Id., at 7.) The trial court, however, found that this agreement about the right of first refusal was too unclear for the parties to understand what each was supposed to do in the situation. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that the Douglases’s argument failed. (Id., at 8.)

Alternatively, the Douglases contended that the buyout value of Edwards’ interests was made in error. (Id.) The trial court based its estimate on the testimony of an accountant expert witness, and the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s reasoning. (Id., at 9.) Edwards also appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in basing their “first right to purchase” ruling on a joint venture contract. (Id., at 11.) The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court’s ruling was based on the trial court’s broad equitable powers of partition, not on a joint venture contract. (Id.) The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s interlocutory judgment. (Id.)

Douglas shows how messy partitions actions can become. Though both parties may want a partition, a whole host of related claims can balloon out of that lawsuit. Courts may even rule on different claims in different phases to resolve relevant factual issues that could be important for the other claims. These other claims can have an impact on the court’s partition judgment.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Douglas, partition law can be about more than just partitions. Parties may bring other claims related to the property that can affect how the court rules on the partition. It is vital that parties understand how the different claims in a lawsuit may affect the partition, or vice versa, and adjust their strategy accordingly.

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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