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Rialto Partition Lawyers

The city of Rialto was incorporated on November 17, 1911. However, the city’s roots trace as far back as the 1500s, when Serrano Indians settled on the land. As a town with a homeownership rate over 60%, this suggests that many homes in Rialto are jointly owned. According to Redfin, In June 2023, Rialto home prices were up .0% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $550K. On average, homes in Rialto sell after 34 days on the market compared to 34 days last year. There were 44 homes sold in June this year, down from 48 last year. Rialto 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 in California?

A partition lawsuit requires real estate to be sold regardless of the requests of the other title owners. The purpose of a partition action is to permanently end all disputes and remove all obstacles to the free enjoyment of land by one person. (McGillivray v. Evans (1864) 27 Cal.92.) These types of actions can be brought for all types of real estate from houses to farms to office buildings to apartment buildings. Similarly, partition actions are available all types of ownership situations from joint tenants to tenants-in-common to partnership property to property jointly owned by former spouses.

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 Rialto Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

First, a partition action is filed. A partition action can be filed if one co-owner of real property or a piece of real estate wishes to sell the property or piece of real estate in question but the other co-owners or co-tenants do not wish to sell their ownership rights. 

Second, the court may appoint a court referee to oversee the sale of the property in question. The sales procedure includes that all parties agree to the terms and conditions of the sale in writing. If the parties can not agree, as partition actions are usually very contested issues, then the referee that the court appointed may recommend terms and conditions to the court. Then the court will hold a hearing to decide whether or not to accept those terms and conditions. 

Third, in California, the property’s value will be appraised via a third party or another property appraisal with no ties to any of the parties. While this is not required in all states, it is recommended to make sure that all parties are on the same metaphorical page as to the potential sale proceeds of the property in question. 

Fourth, the referee will conduct the sale in the method most agreeable to all of the party’s goals. This can be via a public auction or a private sale. Regardless of the specific method of partition by sale, the court will determine if the sale was “fair.” If it is decided that the property’s sale proceeds had a lack of proper notice, the sale amount is not within reasonable the value of the property, or if the proceeds were unfair- the court would rule that the property will be up for sale again. 

Lastly, the court will order that the proceeds of the sale, minus any court litigated or approved offsets or costs, will be distributed equitably amongst all of the co-owners or people with interest in the property. A top Rialto 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 Rialto Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

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.) An experienced Rialto Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Bitetto v. Felix (2008)

Generally, a referee in a partition action may perform any acts necessary to exercise the authority conferred by the partition statute or by the order of the court. (CCP § 873.060.) The Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) lists several situations in which a referee can be appointed in partition actions. For example, a referee can be appointed to perform the actual partitioning of the property whether it’s a physical division, partition by sale, or partition by appraisal. (CCP §§ 76-107) Regardless of what situation a referee was appointed for, a referee can petition the court for instructions concerning the referee’s duties under the partition statutes. (CCP § 873.070.) Bitetto v. Felix (2008) 2008 WL 5246444 addresses whether not an arbitrator exceeded his power in ordering the partition and sale of a boat and additionally discusses whether the arbitrator was acting as a partition referee.

In Bitetto v. Felix, Raymond and Priscilla Felix appealed from a judgment confirming an arbitration award issued against them. The award required the partition and sale of a boat which the Felixes co-owned with another couple, Vince and Debbie Bitetto. The award required that the Felixes pay in excess of $50,000 in attorney fees and costs to the Bitettos.

The Felixes and Bitettos originally entered into a boat co-ownership agreement that stated: (1) the mortgage and title to the boat was held in the name of Felix until the mortgage was paid off in which a 50 percent ownership interest would be transferred to Bitetto; and (2) any claim arising out of or relating to the co-ownership agreement, or breach thereof, would be settled by arbitration. In October 2005, a dispute arose between the parties, and the Bitettos filed a petition to compel arbitration of that dispute. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the Bitettos and ordered the boat to be partitioned and sold. In determining partition fees, costs, and accounting, the arbitrator initially reserved all determinations to the trial court. However, the trial court responded by ordering the arbitrator to resolve all issues including costs and fees. The arbitrator then found that the Bitettos were entitled to recover fees and costs pursuant to their partition action and under the common benefit theory and ultimately awarded them a total of $52,078.91, representing fees and costs. The trial court confirmed the award an issued a judgment.

On appeal, the Felixes argued that: (1) the judgment must be reversed because the boat ownership agreement they entered into with the Bitettos was illegal and thus the arbitration provision should not have been enforced; (2) the arbitrator exceeded his powers in ordering partition and sale of the parties' interests in the boat because their agreement specified that the boat's mortgagee must consent to any such sale, and no such consent was obtained; and (3) the trial court erred in allowing an award of attorney fees against them.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected the Felix’s illegality argument. The Felixes alleged that the co-ownership agreement violated the terms of the boat mortgage that contained a representation that the Felixes lawfully owned all title and interest in the vessel, thus the co-ownership agreement ran afoul of a federal law requiring that a mortgagor of a boat disclose to all “obligations” on the vessel. (46 U.S.C. § 31330.) The Court of Appeal considered the argument waived because the argument was not raised at any point during the arbitration or trial court proceeding. However, the Court of Appeal elected to consider the merits of the illegality argument and still rejected the contentions because even if the Felixes had entered into a mortgage for the boat without disclosing their co-ownership agreement with the Bitettos, and the Bitettos had known of the mortgage terms, those facts would still not render the ownership contract illegal. While the mortgage could be illegal, the co-ownership agreement that was entered into before the mortgage was not. The Court of Appeal concluded that the fact that one of the co-owners subsequently made misrepresentations to the mortgagee about the co-ownership agreement did not, retroactively, transform that legal contract into an illegal one.

The Court of Appeal then rejected the Felixes' next contention that the arbitrator exceeded his power in ordering the sale of the boat without consent of its mortgagee. The Felixes asserted that because the co-ownership agreement expressly provided that any sale of the boat was subject to the lender agreeing to the sale, the arbitrator had no authority to order a sale in the absence of the mortgagee's consent. Again, the Court of Appeal considered the argument waived because it was not raised before the arbitrator or trial court. The argument still failed on the merits because the sale of the boat could not have occurred without the mortgagee’s agreement to release security interest and acceptance of the proceeds would qualify as ratification of the sale.

The Felixes lastly claimed that the arbitrator lacked arbitral authority to uses any awards of fees and costs. The Court of Appeal disagreed and concluded that the arbitrator had the authority to award costs and fees because for two primary reasons. First, the arbitration provision granted the arbitrator broad authority to decide any claim arising out of or relating to the co-ownership agreement. An award of attorney fees arising out of the partition suit and sale of the co-owned boat was sufficiently related and a consequence of the co-ownership agreement. Second, the Court of Appeal concluded nothing in the arbitrator's decision suggested that he believed he lacked the authority to adjudicate the fee issue, but only believed it would be more efficient to allow the trial court to make the decision about the fees. The trial court disagreed and bounced the matter back to the arbitrator, therefore the arbitrator had the authority to enforce the partition sale and award attorney fees and the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

Some property co-ownership agreements have arbitration clauses that mandate all complaints be adjudicated by arbitration instead of beginning in the court. While arbitration can have certain implications, the fundamentals of a partition complaint would remain the same. If you are thinking of initiating a partition action or need legal representation to defend yourself against a partition complaint, you may benefit from legal advice on the topic. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consultation.

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