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San Bernardino Partition Lawyers

San Bernardino is located in southern California, east of Los Angeles, and is famous for lying along Route 66, one of the most iconic roads in the world, and for sitting at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains. As a city with giant roots and long ties tracing back to the California Gold Rush, many San Bernardino residents often find themselves inheriting property from loved ones along with other family and friends. In these situations, however, an experienced San Bernardino Partition Lawyer understands not everyone inheriting property is willing, or wants, to become entangled in a joint ownership relationship with another person over said property. There are at least four scenarios where speaking to a San Bernardino Partition Lawyer should be considered:

  • Buy out a brother on a jointly owned property;
  • Buy out a girlfriend on a jointly owned property;
  • Buy out a cousin on a jointly owned property; and
  • Buy out a joint tenant on a jointly owned property;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

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

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

The first step to a partition action is to petition the court for a partition of the property. In order to petition the court, a litigant must file a legally valid complaint for partition. As noted above, the litigant must be a co-owner of the subject property in order to have standing to file a partition complaint. (CCP § 872.210.) 

Second, after filing the complaint, a litigant must then obtain an interlocutory judgment of partition in the correct procedural form. An interlocutory judgment is a temporary judgment ordered before the close of trial during the litigation of the case. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 872.720, the court must enter an interlocutory judgment when the court finds that the Plaintiff in a partition action is entitled to a partition. In order to obtain an interlocutory judgment, a litigant must establish their right to partition by proving they have an ownership interest in the subject property. 

Third, if the court finds that a litigant has an ownership interest in the subject property and grants an interlocutory judgment of partition, the court will then appoint a partition referee to oversee the partition of the property. A partition referee is a neutral third party appointed by and accountable to the court to assist the court in matters related to partition actions. (CCP § 873.510.)

Fourth, Once the referee has provided the court with their report, the court must determine the proper method for partitioning the subject property. The court determines the proper method of partition by determining which method of partition is more equitable.

Fifth, once the court has determined the proper method of partitioning the subject property, the court will then order a final judgment of partition, and the property will be partitioned according to the proper method determined by the court. If the court orders a partition by sale, there must be an accounting to distribute the proceeds of the sale in strict compliance with the requirements of the evidentiary code. A top San Bernardino 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 San Bernardino 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. (Hunterv. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24.) An experienced San Bernardino Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Layvas v. Solano (2002)

After a court enters judgement for a partition, how may the court determine the amount of rental damages to be allocated among the parties to the action as well as equitable offsets to such rental damages? The answer largely depends on the particular facts of the case in question. The following paragraphs discuss how different circumstances affected the court’s judgment in Layvas v. Solano (2002) 2002 WL 31492568.

In Layvas, adult stepchildren (“Plaintiffs” or “Appellants”) sued their stepmother, Trinidad Layvas (“Trinidad” or “Defendant” or “Respondent”), seeking partition by sale of a residence located in San Bernardino, California (the “property”).

In 1962, Plaintiffs’ father, Manuel Layvas (“Manuel”), purchased the property. Three years later, in 1965, Manuel married Trinidad, who was his third wife. Manuel and Trinidad lived on the property for over 31 years until Manuel’s death in April 1997. In 1977, unbeknownst to Trinidad, Manuel had conveyed the property to himself and the Plaintiffs as joint tenants. Two days after Manuel’s death in 1997, the Plaintiffs informed Trinidad that they wanted her to vacate the residence within 45 days. Trinidad refused and remained on the property beyond the 45-day period.

On August 20, 1997, Trinidad filed a spousal property petition seeking to void the 1977 deed that Manuel had used to convey the residence to the Plaintiffs. Trinidad claimed that the residence was entirely community property and had passed to her upon Manuel’s death. The Plaintiffs filed objections to Trinidad’s spousal property petition, claiming that the residence was entirely theirs based on the 1977 deed. Pursuant to Trinidad’s spousal property petition, the trial court ultimately determined that the Plaintiffs owned a 68.1 percent undivided interest and that Trinidad owned a 31.9 percent undivided interest in the residence.

On September 6, 2000, the Plaintiffs filed their partition action against Trinidad. The Plaintiffs sought to partition the residence by sale and to recover from Trinidad 68.1 percent of the residence’s rental value from August 20, 1997 onward. The Plaintiffs claimed that Trinidad had ousted them from the residence on August 20, 1997, when she filed her spousal property petition.

On August 23, 2001, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and ordered the sale of the residence and the division of its proceeds in accordance with the parties’ ownership interests. The trial court also held that (1) Trinidad had ousted the Plaintiffs from the residence on August 20, 1997; (2) the rental value of the residence was $700 per month beginning August 20, 1997; $750 per month beginning August 20, 1998; $800 per month beginning August 20, 1999; and $850 per month from August 20, 2000 to the date of the judgment.

Despite these holdings favoring the Plaintiffs, however, the trial court more importantly held that Trinidad need not compensate the Plaintiffs for their claimed rental damages. “Plaintiffs would have been entitled to 68.1 [percent] of the accrued rental damages, except that accrued rental damages are completely offset by the fact that [Trinidad], though elderly and in poor health, bore the entire burden of maintaining and improving the property and paying property taxes from the ouster to the present.” (emphasis added.) The Plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal to the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, the Plaintiffs contended that the trial court’s finding of a complete offset against their rental damages of $25,333.207 was not supported by substantial evidence. The Court of Appeal disagreed. The Court concluded that the trial court had not abused its equitable discretion in denying the Plaintiffs’ claim for rental damages.

The Court reasoned that, under well-settled law, tenants in common are entitled to share equally in the possession of the property, and no cotenant may exclude another from any part of it. An ouster is the wrongful dispossession or exclusion of one tenant by his cotenant or cotenants from the common property. When one tenant in common is ousted by another, the ousted tenant is entitled to recover damages resulting from the ouster. Such damages ordinarily amount to the ousted tenant’s proportionate share of the value of the use and occupation of the land from the time of the ouster.

Additionally, an ouster does not always necessarily mean that the tenant in possession, or his or her estate, must pay rental damages to the cotenants from the date of ouster. Equitable defenses may apply, including waiver and estoppel. Additionally, in partition actions, the court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustment among the parties according to the principles of equity.

According to the Court of Appeal, the trial court’s determination that Plaintiffs’ rental damages were completely offset by Trinidad’s maintenance and improvements to the residence after August 20, 1997 was a lawful exercise of its equitable powers. Thus, the only issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the trial court had so abused its discretion that it had resulted in a manifest miscarriage of justice.

The evidence presented to the trial court demonstrated that, between August 20, 1997 and the date of trial on August 21, 2001, Trinidad had lived in the residence, paid property taxes on it, paid a gardener to maintain the lawn, purchased a new water heater, replaced the roof on an outbuilding, and fixed the plumbing and various other items in need of repair. Her son had also purchased an air conditioner for $800. In contrast, the Plaintiffs had paid no portion of any expenses incurred in maintaining or improving the residence. The evidence also showed that Trinidad was elderly and in declining health.

Plaintiffs argued that they should be entitled to rental damages because many of Trinidad’s expenditures, including the amount of property taxes paid, were not quantified in terms of exact dollar amounts. Plaintiffs also argued that there was no evidence that Trinidad had spent over $25,000 in maintaining and improving the residence after the date of ouster. Regardless, the Court held that the precise dollar amounts of Trinidad’s expenditures were not dispositive of the equities between the parties.

Based on its broad equity powers, the trial court could have reasonably determined that Trinidad’s ongoing maintenance services, expenditures, and improvements to the property after the date of ouster, were of substantially equal value to Plaintiffs’ accrued rental damages. In particular, Trinidad had undertaken the entire burden of maintaining the residence, despite her advanced age and declining health. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Plaintiffs’ rental damages were completely offset by Trinidad’s maintenance services and expenditures.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgement and awarded Trinidad costs on appeal.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As we’ve seen, the court has broad discretion to determine the amount of rental damages to be allocated among the parties to partition actions as well as the equitable offsets made for such rental damages.

Our knowledgeable attorneys are available to help you navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding partitions. As there are many different ways to waive the right of partition, you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition, or if you are faced with defending against a partition lawsuit, then please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C. for an initial consultation.

Learn more here.

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