Salinas Partition Lawyers

Salinas is the county seat and most populous city in Monterey County, only eight miles from the Pacific Ocean. Salinas is known as the “Salad Bowl of the World” due to its large, vibrant agriculture industry. Interestingly, over 80 percent of the lettuce grown in the United States is produced in the Salinas area. As a city with deep agricultural roots, Salinas residents may find themselves inheriting property with their siblings that they have no interest in keeping or maintaining when a loved one passes. In such times, joint owners of real property may not know their legal rights or options regarding their inherited property. So, in these times, speaking with a Salinas Partition Lawyer can provide co-owners guidance on their new legal rights. There are at least four other instances where a Salinas Partition Lawyer may be helpful:

  • Parent-Child co-ownership of property;
  • Sibling-Sibling co-ownership of property;
  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend co-ownership of property; and
  • Investor-Investor co-ownership of property
What is a Partition Action in California?

Partition is a court-ordered process where a property owner forces a sale of jointly owned real estate. Essentially, a partition action exists to allows people who own real estate together to take their share of the equity and go their separate ways. But, as simple as this seems, partition actions can often become complex lawsuits. Disputes commonly arise as to what type of partition may be sought and the process for determining ownership interests.

For example, “Julie” bought a house with her boyfriend, “Shawn,” thinking that they would get married one day. Later, after they had bought the house, Julie realized that her boyfriend was not the right person for her. Because Julie wanted to move on in her life, she also wanted to sell the house she bought with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, however, was mad at Julie for breaking up with him, and so refused to agree to sell the house. Because they were not married, Julie could not go to a divorce lawyer, and because they both did not agree to sell, a realtor could not help Julie. Julie felt trapped. Julie then, however, found a partition lawyer and was able to get the house sold so she could move on with her life. A partition lawyer got the job done. The best Salinas 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 Salinas 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 Salinas Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What are claims for “contribution”?

Under the law, a property owner can make a claim for contribution for anything that they have expended for the common benefit of all the parties as it relates to their jointly-owned property. Code of Civil Procedure section 874.410 states that “the court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustment among the parties according to the principles of equity.” For example, the credits can include expenditure in excess of the co-tenants fractional share for necessary repairs and improvements that enhance the value of the property. (Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) Similarly, payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be the subject of a reimbursement claim. (Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24.) An experienced Salinas Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: McCabe v. Ford (2003)

A partition is a legal procedure in which the court shall segregate and terminate the common interests in a piece of real property. The court generally issues an interlocutory judgment that determines the interests of the parties, orders a partition, and the manner of partition. (CCP § 872.720(a)). The following paragraphs discuss how the Court of Appeal determines whether an order that partition be by appraisal violates the statutory requirement of interlocutory judgment in McCabe v. Ford (2013) 2013 WL 352639.

In McCabe, James F. McCabe filed a complaint to quiet title to property in which he had joint tenancy with his former fiancé. The complaint alleged that McCabe and Debra A. Ford took title to the property as joint tenants in 1996, and that McCabe paid the down payment. The complaint further alleged that Ford had not contributed to the payment of the mortgage or other obligations of the property. McCabe requested a judgment declaring that Ford had no interest in the property adverse to McCabe.

Ford successfully filed an answer to the complaint in February 2001, denying all the allegations in the McCabe’s complaint. On that same day, Ford filed a cross-complaint for partition of the real property by sale, alleging that she was the owner of an undivided one-half interest in the property. McCabe filed an amended answer to the cross-complaint in March 2001.

In Ford’s filed brief was a statement that the parties had stipulated to: (1) the appraised value of the residence and the rental values during November 1998 through the present by Appraiser Fred T. Rowland, (2) that the entire down payment was paid by McCabe and should be allowed as credit, and (3) that in the event that the court should decide that Ford had a concurrent interest in the property, the parties agree to partition by appraisal pursuant to the terms as set forth in an agreement to be filed with the court at trial. The parties had also stipulated that from June 1997 on McCabe made all the mortgage payments, made all the home association dues, made all the real property tax payments, and made all the insurance payments. The court accepted this stipulation.

At trial McCabe testified that he moved into the residence in September of 1996 at which time he and Ford were engaged to be married. They took title as joint tenants and had an oral agreement prior to purchasing the property that McCabe would be the one to borrow the down payment for the home using his retirement fund, to which Ford was to pay back one-half. The purchase was to be a “50/50 deal” and they also discussed that if the relationship were to end, the property would be divided amongst them.

The down payment was paid by McCabe as termed in their agreement, but Ford never gave one-half of the amount to McCabe, nor one-half of the original $1,000 deposit McCabe put into escrow. McCabe also paid for improvements on the home, and Ford never paid any portion of those bills. McCabe did not intend to make a gift to Ford of one-half interest in the property, but rather had expected that she was going to pay for it.

McCabe and Ford took out a loan on the property. Both of their incomes were used to qualify them for the loan. However, Ford was in a car accident in September 1996 after which McCabe and Ford decided that Ford would contribute $500 toward the monthly towards the monthly mortgage payment, pay for food and groceries, and McCabe would pay the rest of the mortgage. Despite this, Ford did not pay for all the utilities and only paid $500 toward the mortgage for six to seven months. She moved out in June 1997 and did not pay anything towards the property after that. The pair never married, and McCabe still lived in the residence and wanted to refinance the property but could not do so as long as Ford’s name was listed on the loan.

McCabe testified without objection that in his opinion, based on the Rowland appraisal, the value of the residence was $385,000 and on cross-examination he testified that he had no opinion as the value of the residence at the time he filed the quiet title action.

After the parties testified, Ford moved to dismiss the quiet title action arguing that the sole relief was partition either by sale or by appraisal. After additional testimony from Ford during which she made vocal her opposition to partition based on the Rowland appraisal, the court indicated it needed time to conduct research on the points that has been raised.

Following its continuance of the matter and hearing the final comments of the parties, the court ruled in favor of Ford’s motion to dismiss the quiet title action and ordered that there be a partition by way of appraisal. McCabe was to pay Ford $7,000 (1.8% of the appraisal value) and once payment was made, Ford was to sign off any claim or title, and title would be in the name of McCabe.

Ford appealed arguing that the trial court ignored statutory procedures regarding the partition. She argued that once the trial court ruled in her favor, partition of the property by sale was the sole cause of action before it. Ford also argued that the parties entered into a stipulation as to an accounting and that the trial court should not have admitted the evidence regarding the property’s value and the payments made by McCabe prior to determining the parties’ interests in the property.

The California Court of Appeal of the Sixth District did not take lightly to this argument. The court points out that Ford had informed the court that the parties agreed to partition by appraisal and stipulated the appraised value of Rowland. Therefore, Ford could not now complain that the trial court acted in accordance with that stipulation. The evidence supported the trial courts finding that despite the fact that property was taken in joint tenancy, the parties did not have concurrent 50/50 interests in the property.

Regarding a stipulation to an accounting, based on the record, the Court of Appeal found that the parties stipulated to the procedure it would follow, should the trial court find an accounting necessary. The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court could have reasonably determined that an accounting was unnecessary. Additionally, the evidence regarding the property’s value and payments were admissible, the court noting that the quiet title action and the cross-complaint for partition were tied in one proceeding based on the testimony and evidence.

Courts may order an interlocutory judgement that determines the manner of partition. Here, based on the record, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the trial court and found that it rightfully ordered partition by appraisal, giving Ford 1.8% of the appraisal value in exchange of forgoing title or interest to the property.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

A court’s determination of ownership interests in a property depends on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Factors such as agreements and who pays for certain expenses for the property can ultimately affect the outcome of a partition case. If you are considering partition as an option, or find yourself defending one, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consultation.

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