Redding Partition Lawyers

Redding, the cultural capital of the Shasta Cascade region in Northern California, is renowned for being the “Trail Capital” of the state, having more than 100 miles of trails. According to Redfin, in June 2023, Redding home prices were down 2.2% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $394K. On average, homes in Redding sell after 15 days on the market compared to 9 days last year. There were 114 homes sold in June this year, down from 154 last year. Given its size and outdoor appeal, Redding is a family community where residents jointly own their homes. A Redding Partition Lawyer knows that, unfortunately, co-owners of houses are not immune to disagreements. When those disagreements become irreconcilable, and separation is the only viable option between co-owners, partitioning the jointly owned home is often the best remedy. There are at least four different instances where a Redding Partition Lawyer can be helpful: 

  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend co-ownership of property;
  • Sibling-Sibling co-ownership of property;
  • Parent-Child co-ownership of property; and
  • Investor-Investor co-ownership of property;
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 Redding Partition Lawyer 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 Redding Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process. 

Can You Mediate a Partition Action? 

A partition action can always be resolved informally at any time prior to the first day of trial, or entry of judgment. In fact, in numerous instances, just filing the partition itself leads the other party to seek a resolution between them. We always encourage the parties to talk throughout every phase of the process, as that can lead to the best outcomes for everyone.

From our perspective, every piece of litigation is just part of a larger “negotiation.” In any negotiation, the party who has the best leverage is usually able to achieve a more favorable outcome. The lawsuit provides the client with more leverage because they have more options available to them than without the prospect of a resolution from a judge. As such, all that a lawsuit does is provide one party with more leverage in the negotiation about how to resolve the dispute. For this reason, the best way to informally resolve a dispute is to combine discussions with active litigation, so that the matter can be quickly resolved without unnecessary expense. Throughout the process, our attorneys are in touch with our clients about their options and the prospects for informal resolution through mediation or negotiation. A knowledgeable Redding 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 Redding Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters. 

A Partition Case Study: Spiegel v. Adams: Property Title and Partitions

California law is designed to cover a variety of situations. Partition law in particular can be very nuanced, especially when it comes to the type of title the co-owners hold for the property. The law often treats joint tenants and tenants in common differently. 

This difference in title can affect the results of partition. The type of title is especially important when the court is determining how to distribute the sale proceeds in a partition by sale. This may lead to outcomes that could seem unfair. 

What Led This Case to the Court of Appeal?

The property at issue in Spiegel v. Adams (2009) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 4048086 was a condominium in Oceanside, California. (Id., at 1.) Susanne E. Adams and Sylvia L. Spiegel met in 1988 and moved into a single-family home together as joint tenants. (Id.)

Adams and Spiegel bought the condo in Oceanside as an investment. (Id.) They each contributed $3,000 to the down payment and took out a mortgage where the monthly payments were $600 and $650. (Id.) The condo sat empty for a year before being put on the rental market. (Id.) 

In 1993, their relationship deteriorated, and Spiegel moved out. (Id.) Spiegel made some contributions to expenses in 1993 and 1994, then stopped making contributions in 1995. (Id.)

In October 1995, Spiegel called and left a message with Adams saying she was at the condo to pick up her refrigerator, but Adams had changed the locks on the condo without giving Spiegel a key. (Id.) Spiegel told Adams that she had a plan to let Adams have her interest and assume the loan. (Id.) Spiegel also complained that she just wanted her refrigerator. (Id.

Adams believed Spiegel’s call meant that Spiegel would exchange her interest in the property for her refrigerator. (Id.) Adams went to the condo with a quitclaim deed. (Id.) Spiegel took the refrigerator but refused to sign the quitclaim deed. (Id.) Spiegel told Adams she would sign the quitclaim deed later, but Spiegel changed her mind. (Id.

In September 2005, Spiegel sued Adams for partition. (Id.) Adams had not asked for contributions from Spiegel before the lawsuit commenced. (Id.

Adams asserted an affirmative defense of adverse possession in her answer. (Id., at 2.) Adams filed an amended cross-complaint against Spiegel for dissolution of partnership, accounting, and breach of duty of good faith. (Id.) Adams alleged Adams and Spiegel had an oral agreement to equally pay for property expenses and share profits, but Spiegel gave up control of the property and so Adams had sole ownership. (Id.) The cross-complaint also requested, in the alternative, for Adams to be reimbursed for one-half of the payments she made to maintain the property. (Id.

The trial began in April 2008. (Id.) Adams argued that she had sole ownership on the legal ground of adverse possession. (Id.) Spiegel contended that while Adams’s original cross-complaint had a cause of action for adverse possession, Adams’s amended cross-complaint contained no adverse possession cause of action. (Id.) The trial court held that Adams could not obtain relief under adverse possession, but she could assert it as an affirmative defense. (Id.

Spiegel testified that she and Adams took the title as joint tenants to protect each other in case something happened to one of them. (Id.) Spiegel also testified that the parties had no written agreement about paying expenses for the condo, but they paid expenses from a joint accountt. (Id.) Spiegel and Adams did not discuss what they would do if the condo was sold. (Id.

Adams testified that the parties agreed to share the expenses equally and be business partners in the property. (Id.) Adams claimed the parties did not discuss holding the title in joint tenancy, and she did not understand the relevancy of joint tenancy. (Id.

The trial court denied Adams relief on her cross-complaint. (Id., at 3.) The trial court also dismissed Adams’s affirmative defense of adverse possession based on insufficient evidence. (Id.) The trial court ordered a partition by sale with the expenses and the sale proceeds distributed equally. (Id.) Adams appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. (Id., at 1.) 

Spiegel’s Holding: Title Type and Unfair Outcomes

On appeal, Adams argued that she was entitled to the disproportionate payments she made to maintain the property. (Id., at 3.) Adams cited a California case where a tenant in common was found to have a right to contribution for disproportionate payments. (Id., at 4.) That case was, however, not analogous because it involved tenants in common rather than joint tenants. (Id.)

Adams failed to cite any legal authorities supporting the idea that joint tenants are entitled to contribution for disproportionate payments. (Id., at 5.) The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly ordered partition by sale and denied contribution for Adams. (Id.)

Next, Adams argued partition was improper because she had a valid adverse possession affirmative defense. (Id.) Adams, however, conceded that she was not entitled to relief under adverse possession because her amended cross-complaint did not contain an adverse possession claim, which meant that Adams could not establish she had sole ownership of the property. (Id.) Additionally, Adams presented no legal authority holding that adverse possession was even a valid defense against partition. (Id.

Even if adverse possession was a valid defense against partition, the trial court ruled that Adams did not meet all of the required elements for adverse possession. (Id., at 6.) The Court of Appeal wrote: 

“Adams does not challenge the court's factual findings, and we agree with the court's assessment. Further, none of the evidence Adams cites is availing. For instance, she points to an October 1993 letter she sent Spiegel, in which she advised she had changed the locks on the condominium. In the letter, however, Adams asked for Spiegel's cooperation in signing the property over to her. Further, as late as 1997 Adams continued to solicit Spiegel's cooperation. Adams also cites a 1995 letter Spiegel sent the tenant of the condominium, which she addressed to “Dear Tenant.” This supposedly shows that since Spiegel was unaware of the tenant's name, Adams had rented the property without Spiegel's knowledge or permission. The mere renting of property by a managing joint tenant, however, does not constitute notice of Adams's hostile possession.” (Id., at 7.) 

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id.

Spiegel shows how the co-owner’s property title can have consequences on the partition. While it may seem unfair, joint tenants are only entitled to half of the sale proceeds no matter how disproportionate the payments on the property may be. That’s just the way the law is, and no matter how one-sided the consequences end up, courts will follow the law.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in Spiegel, the sale proceeds were distributed in a way that most people would consider unfair because that’s what the law required. Parties must be aware of the circumstances surrounding the property title in partition actions so that they are prepared with proper arguments. Parties must also be responsible for understanding the law in partitions so that they can fight for the best possible outcome. 

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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