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Oxnard Partition Lawyers

The town of Oxnard was founded in 1897 by Henry T. Oxnard, the founder of a sugar beet factory. Today, Oxnard is the most populous city in the County of Ventura with over 200,000 residents and over 50,000 housing units. This suggests that many homes are joint owned. As such, residents of Oxnard who own real estate may face disputes with co-owners. Generally, the best Oxnard Partition Lawyers usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Split 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?

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 Oxnard Partition Lawyers will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Generally, the first step in the partition lawsuit process is not a lawsuit, but an earnest attempt to resolve the matter informally, such as through a partition agreement. Only when it is clear that litigation is the only option, is it clear that a partition lawsuit is appropriate.

When it is clear that a partition lawsuit is necessary, then the process begins with the filing of a complaint in the county where the property is located. There are several technical requirements for the partition complaint, and many important steps that must be taken during the lawsuit to ensure that the process is managed effectively.

In a partition lawsuit, there are generally four different steps. First, the court determines each party's ownership interests. Second, the court will decide on the manner of sale. Third, the court will order the property be sold. Fourth, the proceeds from the sale will be divided between the parties based on their relative contributions to the property.

While some may believe that inherited property cannot be partitioned, this is incorrect. Instead, when the property is owned as the result of an inheritance, there may be an additional step for an appraisal, and a right of first refusal, as provided by the Uniform Partition of Heirs Act. Under this act, where a co-tenant requests partition by sale, the law gives the non-partition owner the option to buy all of the interests of the co-tenants who requested the sale. A top Oxnard Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

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 Oxnard Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

An action for partition may include an accounting so that the respective rights of the parties can be adjusted and settled. (Lazzarevich v. Lazzarevich, (1952) 39 Cal. 2d 48, 50–51.) A cotenant who has advanced fund to pay common expenses is entitled to reimbursement from the sale proceeds before the balance is divided and distributed to the cotenants. (Southern Adjustment Bureau, Inc. v. Nelson (1964) 230 Cal. App. 2d 539, 541.) A cotenant out of possession can require the cotenant in possession to account for rents and profits or other compensatory adjustment in the division of sale proceeds. (CCP § 872.430.)

The Court may award attorneys’ fees in the partition action that are paid by a party to the action for the common benefit of all the co-owners. (CCP § 872.010.) The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue directly, holding that under former section 796, the predecessor to the current partition cost statute, “counsel fees may be allowed ... for services rendered for the common benefit even in contested partition suits.” (Capuccio v. Caire (1932) 215 Cal. 518, 528-529 (Capuccio).)

Moreover, cases interpreting those sections continue to permit the allocation of attorney fees in contested partition actions. (Forrest v. Elam (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 164, 174.) From these authorities it is evident that the “common benefit” in a partition action is the proper distribution of the “‘respective shares and interests in said property by the ultimate judgment of the court.’ ” (Capuccio, 215 Cal. at p. 528.) This sometimes will require that “ ‘controversies’ ” be “ ‘litigated’ ” to correctly determine those shares and interests but this ultimately can be for the common benefit as well. The fact that a party resists the partition does not change this. (See Randell v. Randell (1935) 4 Cal.2d 575, 582 [“The presence and litigation of controversial issues between all the parties does not preclude the allowance of attorney's fees for services connected with such issues where such services are found to be for the common benefit of the parties.”].) A knowledgeable Oxnard Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

A Partition Case Study: Ruiz v. Ruiz

How may a party’s fraudulent conduct affect a court’s decisions in a partition action? Wrongful acts, such as forging documents or lying to a court, often result in unfavorable rulings and other negative consequences for the party committing the wrongful acts. The consequences of such unadvised conduct may include damage to a party’s credibility and imposition of additional costs. The following paragraphs discuss how wrongful conduct affected the outcome of Ruiz v. Ruiz (2023) 2023 WL 1852779.

In Ruiz, Mr. Manuel Ruiz (the “Plaintiff” or “Respondent”) sued his sister, Ms. Maribel Ruiz (the “Defendant” or “Appellant”), seeking to quiet title to a residential property located in Oxnard, California (the “Property”). Manuel also sought partition by sale and an accounting. Maribel cross-complained for partition, appointment of a receiver, and an accounting. Manuel claimed an 83.5 percent interest while Maribel claimed an adverse 50 percent joint tenancy interest in the Property.

Prior to the dispute, in 1993, Manuel purchased his father's interest in the Property. Manuel’s mother later transferred her interest to him, giving Manuel sole legal title to the Property. In 2003, Manuel agreed to give his sister Maribel a 33 percent interest in the Property if she obtained the funds to construct room additions. The parties recorded a grant deed to that effect in August 2003, after which Maribel applied for a mortgage loan in her name only.

Manuel and Maribel hired a contractor to construct the additions to the Property. The renovation cost $161,000. Both Manuel and Maribel signed the construction contract. After a lender approved a $217,600 loan for the construction, Maribel secured the loan by signing the promissory note and deed of trust, which she recorded on September 25, 2003. Earlier on that same day, however, Maribel also signed and recorded another grant deed (the “Forged Deed”) purportedly transferring Manuel’s entire interest in the Property to herself. This is the point at which things began to go wrong for Maribel.

At trial, Manuel testified that he did not sign the Forged Deed and that he did not know of its existence until after it had been recorded. After receiving the Forged Deed in the mail, Manuel confronted Maribel, but she disclaimed any knowledge of the document. The trial court found that Maribel's explanation of the Forged Deed was not credible, noting that “Maribel closed the mortgage loan, borrowed the money for the room additions that she wanted, in her name alone, and she wanted the house for herself.”

Additionally, a handwriting examiner testified that she had analyzed the Forged Deed, comparing the signature on the deed to Manuel's known signatures, and had concluded that the signature on the deed was “an unsuccessful attempt to simulate [Manuel's] signature and, therefore, not genuine.” The trial court then determined that the deed was a forgery and deemed it void ab initio (or having no legal effect from inception).

To support her crossclaim for partition, Maribel contended that in February 2004, she had executed and recorded a grant deed transferring her interest in the Property to herself and Manuel “as joint tenants.” Because the Forged Deed had been deemed void, however, the trial court determined that Maribel held only the 33 percent interest previously granted to her by Manuel when she executed the February 2004 deed. Consequently, the February 2004 grant deed divided that 33 percent interest in half, giving both Maribel and Manuel a 16.5 percent interest as joint tenants. Thus, Manuel subsequently possessed an 83.5 percent interest in the Property (67 percent as sole owner plus 16.5 percent as a joint tenant) and that Maribel only possessed a 16.5 percent interest.

Maribel's also asserted without any written proof that Manuel had orally agreed to pay 50 percent of the mortgage loan payments and owed her $87,144.52. The trial court rejected this argument, noting that “[a]ny alleged agreement to pay 50% of this loan is not memorialized in a writing signed by the parties, and is unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds” (which requires the signature of the party against whom enforcement is sought in certain situations, such as where performance cannot be complete within a year from when an agreement is made). (Civ. Code, § 1624, subd. (a)(1).)

Additionally, during discovery, Manuel propounded requests for admission to Maribel, in which he asked her to admit that the signature purporting to be his on the Forged Deed was in fact a forgery. Maribel responded by stating, “Responding party lacks sufficient information to admit or deny this request for admission and therefore denies it.” Because Maribel denied the request, Manuel incurred $4,490 in attorney fees proving the fact at trial. The trial court then ordered Maribel to pay Manuel the $4,490 in fees. Maribel appealed the trial court’s rulings.

On appeal, among other things, Maribel argued that the trial court erred by failing to (1) correctly assess the parties’ respective ownership interests in the Property; (2) determine the parties’ obligations regarding the mortgage loan Maribel obtained to renovate the Property; and (3) apply the partition statutes to award Maribel compensation for renovations. She also argued that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding Manuel the $4,490 in attorney costs.

The California Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s holdings in all respects. Upon review, the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court had correctly determined Manuel’s interest in the Property as 83.5 percent and Maribel’s as only 16.5 percent. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal noted that generally accepted legal principles clearly made Maribel’s Forged Deed void and rendered her claims regarding the purported oral agreement unenforceable.

Lastly, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s order that Maribel pay Manuel the $4,490 cost of proving that Manuel’s signature had been forged. The Court held this amount was reasonable given Maribel's denial, which forced Manuel to retain a handwriting expert to provide testimony at trial, and the fact that his attorney had to prepare for and present that defense. Finally, the Court ordered that Manuel was to recover his costs on appeal.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As we’ve seen, wrongful acts, such as forging documents or lying to a court, often result in unfavorable rulings and other costly consequences. If a court determines that a deed is forged, it is likely to deem that deed void. This can cause the opposite outcome from that sought by the party forging the deed. Never forge signatures on legal documents, and never commit perjury to cover it up.

As there are many different ways to waive the right of partition, and you are considering it as an option, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition action, or faced with defending one, then please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C. for an initial consultation.

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