San Diego Partition Lawyers

The City of San Diego was established on July 16, 1769. Today, San Diego's population of over 1.3 million makes it the eighth most populous city in the United States. According to San Diego, In May 2023, San Diego home prices were down 1.1% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $910K. On average, homes in San Diego sell after 11 days on the market compared to 10 days last year. There were 922 homes sold in May this year, down from 1,242 last year. As a town rich in history, residents of San Diego often own property with others due to inheritance, which can lead to disputes between co-owners. Generally, the best San Diego Partition Lawyers usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Boyfriend-girlfriend real estate dispute;
  • Inherited real estate dispute;
  • Investor-Investor real estate dispute; and
  • Significant other real estate dispute
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 San Diego 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 San Diego 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 San Diego 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 Diego Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Adrian v. Adrian

While litigants pay their own attorney fees, there are statutory exceptions in partition actions. California Code of Civil Procedure section 874.010(a) states that the costs of partition include reasonable "attorney's fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit." Similarly, section 874.020 includes partition costs for attorney's fees incurred for the common benefit in prosecuting or defending other actions or proceedings for the protection of the property. Section 874.040 provides the method of allocating partition costs where fees must be apportioned among the parties in proportion to their interests, unless the court determines that some other apportionment is more equitable. The "common benefit" must be incurred by the parties who are entitled to a share of the property to be partitioned. (Finney v. Gomez (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 527, 548–549.) Adrian v. Adrian (2012) 2012 WL 967659 provides an example of how a court determines partition costs for the common benefit after a sale of a property has been completed.

In Adrian v. Adrian, James E. Adrian (James) and Carl Wayne Adrian (Wayne), brothers, inherited undivided quarter interests in investment real estate from their mother. The Carl Adrian Trust B (the Trust), of which the brothers were beneficiaries and James was trustee, owned the other undivided half of the real estate. The jointly owned properties consisted of a commercial building located at 3755–3757 Park Boulevard and 1818 Robinson Avenue, San Diego, California (collectively, the Park Property) and an apartment complex located in Glendale. Wayne was the property manager of 1818 Robinson Avenue and Wayne's company, California Uniforms(CUI), occupied the suit of the Park Property at 3755 Park Boulevard. Disputes arose between the brothers and James sued to partition the Park Property. The brothers settled the action by agreeing to partition by sale and to release each other from all other claims.

After the settlement, James began to renovate 1818 Robinson, but Wayne entered into the space and damaged interior partitions, interior lighting, and ceiling tiles. James received a temporary restraining order against Wayne from entering 1818 Robin that was followed by a court issued injunction prohibiting the same conduct. James also discovered Wayne had installed plumbing that did not comply with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and had made improvements without a permit when Wayne was the property manager years prior. James incurred $57,393.63 to repair and refurbish 1818 Robinson to make it fit for sale.

During the renovation process for 1818 Robinson, Wayne's company CUI withheld rent due for the suite at 3755 Park Boulevard. James wrote many letters demanding that Wayne and CUI pay the rent and was forced to serve CUI with three-day notices to pay rent or quit on June 17, 2008, January 16, 2009, and October 1, 2009. CUI paid the rent in response to the notices.

In determining the final allocation of sale proceeds, James and the Trust moved to have some of his attorney fees and costs related to injunction proceedings, property damage repair, and lease enforcement against CUI be considered partition costs and deducted from Wayne's share. The trial court ordered that James be paid $28,439.37 for attorney fees and the Trust be paid $57,393.63 for repair costs against Wayne's share of the distribution. Wayne appealed asserting the court erred in allocating costs against his share of the distribution. The Fourth District Court of Appeal granted review.

First, Wayne asserted that the court erred in awarding fees and costs to James related to the injunctive relief he obtained against Wayne because (1) it found that they were for the common benefit of the property, not the parties; and (2) those proceedings constituted an independent cause of action against Wayne for damages and an injunction against Wayne for waste.

The court found both allegations to be meritless. Regarding the first contention that the fees were incurred for the benefit of the property and not the parties, the Court of Appeal cited the California Supreme Court decision in Capuccio that held that counsel fees can be for the common benefit even in contested partition suits. (Capuccio v. Caire (1932) 215 Cal. 518, 528–529.) The fact that the court referred to the benefit derived as being a "common benefit to the property" rather than the parties themselves was inconsequential. The Court of Appeal reasoned that any benefit to the property would naturally benefit both James and Wayne as co-owners. The Court of Appeal cited to the injunction order that forbid Wayne from entering the property, after damaging it, because his actions would decrease its fair market value and potential for rental venue that injures James's interest as a cotenant. Therefore, the Court of Appeal rejected Wayne's argument. The Court of Appeal also rejected the second argument that the injunctive relief was an independent cause of action for waste. The court reasoned that the injunction was not merely a collateral matter, but instead was an integral part of the partition proceeding itself, aimed at protecting the value of the property from Wayne's conduct.

Wayne then asserted that the trial court erred in finding that the expenses incurred in repairs made at the Park Property were for the common benefit of the property, and not the parties, because there was no evidence that the repairs resulted in a net increase in the value to the property. Again, the Court of Appeal stated that the benefit to the property was also a benefit to the parties so they rejected Wayne's argument. In terms of increasing value, the court stated that while there is no authority for the proposition that expenses must increase value of the property to be for the common benefit, James did offer evidence and a declaration that his repairs did increase the value to the Park Property.

Lastly, Wayne argued that the trial court made an error in assigning him the attorney fees incurred to enforce the lease against his company, CUI, as he claimed that any fault lies with the company and there was no finding that he was its alter ego. Citing section 874.040, the court has the discretion to make an equitable apportionment of partition costs. Wayne failed to provide any authority to support his claim that the court was required to find him as the alter ego of CUI in order to apportion the fees to him.

Furthermore, there was substantial evidence that showed Wayne himself caused the attorney fees to be incurred by intentionally withholding rent through his control over CUI despite demands from James to pay the rent. Based on this evidence, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court's decision to apportion the attorney fees to Wayne was equitable and there was no reversible error overall

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

Attorney fees are allowable in partition actions when they are incurred for the common benefit of the parties who have an ownership interest in the property to be partitioned. However, the "common benefit" can involve highly contested issues within a partition action. One party may have to pay their opposing side's attorney fees if a court finds that the fees were incurred to protect the property. It's important that you are represented by experienced counsel who can zealously advocate for the position that your attorney fees should be charged against a co-owner's share in a partition dispute. If you are thinking of initiating a partition action, you may benefit from legal advice on the topic of how costs are distributed between owners and potential risks. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consultation.

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