Rocklin Partition Lawyers

Rocklin is a town in Placer County, whose proximity to bigger cities like Roseville and Sacramento, Rocklin’s real estate market has significantly increased in recent years, leading many home buyers to venture into a single property jointly. In April 2023, Rocklin home prices were down 8.9% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $665K. On average, homes in Rocklin sell after 15 days on the market compared to 7 days last year. There were 64 homes sold in April this year, down from 100 last year. A Rocklin Partition Lawyer knows, however, that shared property serves as an obstacle for joint owners who have decided to go their separate ways. In these situations, the legal remedy of partition can severe the joint title and allow each party the freedom to move on to the next stage in their lives. When seeking the option of partition, speaking with a Rocklin Partition Lawyer is vital in at least four broad categories:

  • Co-owned property one partner wants to sell;
  • Partnership property one partner wants to sell;
  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend property one partner wants to sell; and
  • 50/50 property one partner wants to sell;
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 Rocklin 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 Rocklin Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can you recover attorneys’ fees in a partition action?

Code of Civil Procedure, section 874.010 states that “[t]he costs of partition include: (a) [r]easonable attorney’s fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit.”

Interestingly, the costs of partition can also include reasonable expenses necessarily incurred by a party for the common benefit in prosecuting or defending other actions or proceedings for the protection, confirmation, or perfection of title, setting the boundaries, or making a survey of the property. (CCP § 874.020.)

That attorney’s fees are considered “costs” associated with a partition action is important because Section 874.040 goes on to state the “court shall apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interests or make such other apportionment as may be equitable.” A knowledgeable Rocklin Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What are claims for “contribution”?

Code of Civil Procedure section 874.140 states that the “court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustments among the parties according to the principles of equity.”

The court in Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24 stated that the payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be subject to reimbursement. These claims for reimbursement are commonly known as “offsets” in a partition action.

Further, the court under Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, announced that a co-tenant who expends money for the preservation of the property, or with the [acceptance] of their co-tenant(s), is entitled to reimbursement for those expenditures before the division of the proceeds among the property owners.

That is, the general rule is that compensatory adjustments are appropriate for improvements that enhance the value of the property for all owners’ benefit. (see Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) An experienced Rocklin Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Thornber v. Colby

Absent express or implied waiver, a co-owner has an absolute right to partition. (CCP § 872.710, subd. (b).) Therefore, a co-owner of real property may bring an action for partition if desired. (CCP § 872.210.) As an alternative to a physical division of the property between multiple parties with interest, the court may order that the property be sold and the proceeds divided according to the interest held by each party if a sale would be more equitable than a physical division. Both parties can also agree to a sale instead of a physical division. Regardless if a partition is a physical division or a sale, section 870.040 requires that the trial court “apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interests or make such other apportionment as may be equitable.” (CCP § 872.210.) The costs of partition include “[r]easonable attorney's fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit.” (§ 874.010, subd. (a).) The following paragraphs discuss how a court apportions attorney’s fees incurred in a partition dispute as discussed in Thornber v. Colby (2022) 2022 WL 1164207.

In Thornber, Sally Thornber and Kevin Thornber brought suit against defendant Diane Colby, Sally’s sister, seeking partition of a single family home they jointly owned. Diane had resided on the property since 2014 after her father’s death and opposed the partition. Sally’s complaint alleged that she and her ex-husband Kevin contributed $350,000 towards the asking price of her parents’ home with the expectation they would receive an interest in the property. Sally’s parents James and Dorothy executed a grant deed in 2007 which stated that James, Dorothy, Sally, and Kevin were all joint tenants to the home. Dorothy passed away in 2012, leaving James, Sally, and Kevin as the surviving joint tenants who each had an equal undivided one-third interest in the property. Sally’s complaint alleges that James executed another deed in 2014 that conveyed his one-third interest to Diana. Sally seeks a partition by sale according to the respective one-third interests of her, Kevin, and Diana with attorney’s fees and costs offset from the proceeds of the sale.

At trial, Diana alleged that the 2007 deed was fraudulent and asserted that Dorothy had forged James’s signature in response to pressure from Sally. Diana cited multiple counts of hearsay evidence alleging that Dorothy had admitted to signing for James and that James wanted to leave the entire property to her when he died. The trial court ultimately rejected Diana’s allegations finding that she failed to rebut the presumption that the deed was authentic and James's signature genuine. The trial court ordered the partition by sale of the property and the appointment of a referee to oversee the sale. The trial court also found that attorney's fees incurred by Sally and Kevin were for the common benefit, and ordered Diane to pay a proportionate share of those fees pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 874.040. Diana appealed and challenged the interlocutory judgement and orders. The California Third District Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court noting that Diana’s challenges lacked merit.

The trial court had appointed a referee that was requested by Kevin and Sally who would oversee the sale of the property. Diane challenged the appointment, claiming there was a conflict of interest. Diane pointed out that the referee submitted declarations on a legal paper with the name of Sally and Kevin's attorney. Diane alleged that this suggested the referee and Sally and Kevin's attorney collaborated in preparing the declarations. The Court of Appeal rejected Dian’s claim of error because Diane did not suggest anything in the declarations was false or misleading nor did Diana suggest the referee breached any duty to either party.

Diana next alleged that the trial court erred in finding that Sally and Kevin's attorney's fees were incurred for the common benefit and should be equally apportioned among the parties interest in the property. Diana suggested that Sally and Kevin’s attorney’s fees were not incurred for the common benefit because she opposed the partition action. The Court of Appeal found this belief grounded in a misunderstanding of “common benefit.” Fees and costs can still be for the common benefit even if they arise form matters controversial in nature. Additionally, the distribution of proceeds from a sale is an inherent part of a partition proceed and is categorized as a common benefit regardless if there were litigated controversies over the extent of any party’s respective interest. The Court of Appeal stated that litigation ceases to be for the common benefit when it arises between some of the parties only or when one party seeks to deny any benefit to the other parties. Because neither of those situations applied to Diana’s case, the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision to allocate fees according to the parties’ proportionate shares in the property.

Diana lastly alleged that the trial court abused its discretion in declining to base the allocation of attorney’s fees on equitable considerations that would have precluded Diana from paying any of Sally and Kevin’s attorney’s fees. Section 870.040 allows the trial court to apportion costs of partition among the parties based on equitable considerations instead of each parties proportionate property interest. An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court’s application of the law to facts is arbitrary and capricious or rests on an error of law. The Court of Appeal disagreed that equity would have required only Sally and Kevin to pay their attorney’s fees as a result of the partition dispute. Likewise, the Court of Appeals found no error in allocating attorney’s fees according to the parties proportionate share of the property so they rejected Diana’s equity claim all together.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

The allocation of partition costs in a court's decision depends on the property interest of each party involved, as well as equity considerations. In a successful plaintiff's partition case, the court will order the defendant to contribute to the plaintiff's attorney's fees. If you are considering initiating or defending a partition dispute, seeking legal advice on the possible risk of partition costs can be beneficial. For an initial consultation, please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C.

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