Redondo Beach Partition Lawyers

Redondo Beach was originally part of the 1785 Rancho San Pedro Spanish land grant that later became the South Redondo area. There are around 66,000 residents here, and give it a small town feel. It was also the home to the original Baywatch TV series. According to Redfin, in March 2024, the median sales price was $1,432,000 and homes stay on the market for 30 days. Redondo Beach residents who own real estate may face disputes with co-owners. Generally, a partition action is the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Split ownership real estate dispute;
  • Brother-Sister real estate dispute;
  • Investor-Investor real estate dispute; and
  • Significant other real estate dispute
What is a Partition Action?

Partitions are lawsuits that split up the property between multiple co-owners so that each can take their equity out of the home. The prototypical partition are between siblings, former romantic partners, or business partners. Both own parts of the property, but only one wants to end the relationship and take their money out. Partitions enable this to happen, usually ending with a court-ordered sale of the subject property.

Basically, any person who is an owner of real estate can bring a partition action in California. Code of Civil Procedure section 872.710, subdivision (a), states "A partition action may be commenced and maintained by any…owner of…such property." California Civil Code section 872.210 provides a property owner with the "absolute right to partition" absent a valid waiver. Thus, a partition action can be brought by anyone who no longer wants to own jointly owned real estate, other than spousal property.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. The instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have generally 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 Redondo Beach 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 Redondo Beach 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 Redondo Beach 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 Redondo Beach Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Sheats v. Sheats-Okaidjan(2023)

The California Code of Civil Procedure and various case laws provide guidance on the types of court orders that are generally appealable. However, there are various factors that the appellate courts must consider when determining if a lower court’s order fits the criteria for appeal as provided by the law. The following paragraphs discuss how the court determines such matters in Sheats v. Sheats-Okaidjan (2023) 2023 WL 8014652.

In Sheats, three siblings, Shawenti Sheats, Brian Dent and Roxanne Hart commenced a partition action against their fourth sibling Patricia Sheats Okaidjan. Each of the siblings had a one-fourth tenant in common interest in the Property.

In 2018, Roxanne and Shawenti borrowed $45,000 from Gonzalez, and executed a promissory note and a junior deed of trust encumbering the one-fourth interest held by each in the Property. The deed gave Gonzalez rights to enact protective measures for the property and to avoid foreclosure if Roxanne and Shawenti did not meet their obligations as stated in the deed. Gonzalez sought various reliefs in the sibling’s partition action but did not formally intervene. In 2019, the court reinstated the siblings’ interests in the property through an interlocutory judgment.

Shawenti filed an ex parte application asking the clerk to execute on behalf of Gonzalez (1) a demand to payoff the promissory note and (2) full reconveyance of deed of trust. The ex parte application suggested the need to designate an elisor to sign on behalf of Gonzalez, as Gonzalez was accused of hindering the property's sale by demanding more from the escrow company than the promissory note specified. Gonzalez contested this application, insisting that the issues merited a noticed hearing and that the documents Shawenti was asking the court to execute would unjustly reduce his recovery rights under the deed of trust. In January 7, 2021, the court, in order to effectuate the sale of the Property, issued an order requiring, that the clerk sign as an elisor on behalf of anyone refusing to sign. Additionally, the court set a hearing for the “confirmation of sale of the Property and the disbursements of sale proceeds.” Green, successor in interest to Gonzalez, appealed seeking reversal of the January 7, 2022 order. She argued that the court abused its discretion in ordering the clerk to sign the reconveyance and beneficiary demand on Gonzalez’s behalf.

The California Second District Court of Appeal held that the order was not appealable and dismissed the appeal. Green argued that the order was appealable based on California Supreme Court decision, In re Marriage of Skelly (1976), 18 Cal.3rd 365,368 (1976) (Skelley), under which, “certain ‘collateral’ orders may be appealable even if not specifically listed in [the] Code of Civil Procedure.” (Koshak v. Malek (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1540, 1545 (Koshak).) The court agreed with the doctrine but disagreed that it applied in this case.

The court further explained that to be an appealable collateral order, the interlocutory order must (1) be a final determination (2)of collateral matter and (3) direct the payment of money or performance of an act. (Koshak, supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at p. 1545; see Skelley, supra, 18 Cal.3d at p. 368. The January 7 order instructed the clerk to carry out a full reconveyance of the deed of trust for Gonzalez, which terminated Gonzalez’s security interest in the Property. The clerk's role was limited to the administrative task of signing the grant deed to fulfill the court's order, and no further court actions are required to enforce this part of the order. This made the order final in relation to the deed of trust reconveyance. However, the part of the order that called for the court to issue a demand for the payoff of the promissory note was not considered final, as it was merely a demand and did not address the issue of the amount Gonzalez was owed under the promissory note. The court considered whether the order was collateral or “distinct and severable…from the general subject to the litigation.” (Koshak, supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at p. 1545.) “[An] order is not ‘collateral’ if it is a ‘necessary step’ to the determination of the issue in the case.” (Ibid.; San Joaquin County Dept. of Child Support Services v. Winn (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 296, 300 [“[i]f an order is ‘ “important and essential to the correct determination of the main issue” ’ and ‘ “a necessary step to that end,” ’ it is not collateral”].)

The court held that the general subject matter of the case was the partition of the Property among siblings. The lien reflected in Gonzalez’s deed of trust was only on two of the four interests due to which the court could not partition the property in kind subject to the lien. (See Wernse v. Dorsey (1935) 2 Cal.2d 513, 515, see also Code Civ. Proc., § 873.260 [“[w]here a lien is on an undivided interest of a party, the lien shall, upon division of the property, become a charge only on the share allotted to that party”].)

The court further explained that when the lien encumbers only some of the joint owners, the only just recourse is to “sell the property free of lien and satisfy the lien against the interest of the joint owner by deducting from his share of the proceeds the amount of his indebtedness.” (Wernse, supra, at p. 515; accord, Cathcart v. Redlands Security Co. (1945) 67 Cal.App.2d 591, 593–594.). The court thus held that trial court needed to issue the order to appoint an elisor to execute grant deed to remove the lien on property so that the property could be sold free of liens. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal holding that the order was not an appealable collateral order as it was a necessary step and not collateral to partitioning the property.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen above, the appellate courts consider various factors in determining whether they can consider an appeal on an order by the lower courts in a partition action. As a party to a potential partition action, it is helpful to be aware of the principles and rules of partition, including those relating to an appealable order. As such, 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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