San Gabriel Valley Partition Lawyers

The San Gabriel Valley is part of Los Angeles in California. The San Gabriel Valley is surrounded by the San Gabriel Mountains to the North, the Puente Hills to the South, the Pomona Valley to the East, and the San Rafael Hills to the West. The largest cities in the valley include Pasadena, Alhambra, Altadena, Monterey Park, El Monte, Covina, Diamond Bar, and the City of Industry. The San Gabriel Valley is home to the annual Tournament of Roses parade, and the Rose Bowl. There are at least four different instances where a San Gabriel Valley Partition Lawyer can be helpful:

  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend co-ownership of property;
  • Sibling-Sibling co-ownership of property;
  • Parent-Child 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 San Gabriel Valley Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Generally, a partition action has four stages, which include (1) the filing of the lawsuit (2) an appraisal of the Property under the Partition of Real Property Act, (3) the determination of the parties’ interests, and appointment of a referee to sell the property, and (4) the division of the proceeds from the sale.

In California partition actions, the court must enter an interlocutory judgment where the court finds that the Plaintiff in a partition action is entitled to a partition. (CCP § 872.720.) The interlocutory judgment “determines the interests of the parties in the property and, unless it is to be later determined, the manner of partition.” (CCP § 872.720.) A top San Gabriel Valley 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 San Gabriel Valley Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Following the sale of the property, the referee will divide the proceeds of the sale among the parties in according to amounts expended for the "common benefit."

When the sale is confirmed by the court, the court may enter an order about the proceeds of sale. Under the law, the sale proceeds must be applied in a defined order. Specifically, Code of Civil Procedure section 873.820 states that the sale proceeds go towards (a) payment of expenses of the sale, (b) payment of the other costs of partition, (c) payment of any liens on the property in priority, (d) and distribution of the remainder to the parties in proportion to their shares as determined by the court.

Generally, the last part of the priority list includes what is commonly known as an "accounting" or a determination of whether one party has contributed more than their fair share to the property in the form of taxes, improvements, or other benefits for the property. For example, if one party is a 50% owner of the property, but has paid all of the property taxes for the property, then that property owner will have a claim for the remaining 50% above their interest in the property. An experienced partition lawyer will be able to help a co-owner determine their claims to the proceeds and make these arguments to the court in an effective way. An experienced San Gabriel Valley Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Missinato v. Missinato (2022)

Generally, the rule is that partition actions between tenants in common are not barred by the lapse of time. This means that the statute of limitations does not bar tenants in common from seeking relief in an action of partition. However, in a case where a defendant disputes that a plaintiff has an ownership interest in the property, the applicable statute of limitations is the one that applies to the cause of action that the plaintiff claims an ownership interest. In these circumstances, the plaintiff is required to prove that he or she has such an ownership interest. The following paragraphs discuss how the statute of limitations can affect the outcome of a case in Missinato v. Missinato (2022) WL 1124871.

In Missinato, Marco Missinato brought an action his sister, Elisabetta Missinato, seeking to partition the Property among other things. He claimed that he had an undivided one-half ownership interest in the Property. Prior to filing this suit, Anna Rossi, the Parties’ mother, visited Marco and Elisabetta telling them that she wanted to give them each around $450,000 as an advance on their inheritance. Elisabetta wanted to use her advance to purchase a new home. Elisabetta and Rossi then went house shopping, however, they could not find a place in the $400,000. Instead, Elisabetta desired to buy a the Property for $900,000 and Marco told her and Rossi that he would combine his advance with Elisabetta’s so that they could purchase the Property and own it equally. In 2012, Elisabetta signed a contract to purchase the Property and a grant deed was recorded naming only Elisabetta as an owner. The family decided to only put Elisabetta’s name on the deed based on the incorrect belief that Elisabetta, as a United States citizen, would get a tax benefit from leaving Marco’s name off the title. Marco was not a citizen.

Elisabetta then began living on the Property with her boyfriend and converted the garage into a small apartment. Marco also moved in in 2012, however, after two months, he left the Property because Elisabetta told him she needed her own space and told him to leave. Rossi and Marco started asking Elisabetta to recognize Marco’s ownership interest in the Property, but Elisabetta continuously ignored or refused their request. In 2013, Marco wanted to sell the Property and divide the proceeds as he was afraid he would no longer be able to work due to his health condition, but Elisabetta refused. Elisabetta lived on the Property from 2012 to 2016 and would sometimes rent rooms to other tenants and kept all the rental income to herself. She paid for renovations and maintenance for the Property, as well the property taxes. In 2016, Elisabetta moved to Texas and Rossi told her that it was time to sell the Property and split the proceeds with Marco, but Elisabetta refused. In 2018, Marco wrote to Elizabeth requesting the same thing, but Elisabetta continued to refuse and stated that the Property belonged to her.

The trial court held in favor of Marco and issued an interlocutory judgment determining that Marco and Elisabetta were tenants in common and ordering the sale of the Property. The trial court found that Marco had established his claim to a one-half interest in the Property through a resulting trust, and that Elisabetta and Marco had agreed that they both would own the Property equally before Rossi funded the purchase. The trial court also rejected Elisabetta’s statute of limitations defense because the statute of limitations for a resulting trust claim “does not accrue until the beneficiary has actual knowledge of the repudiation or breach of trust,” finding that this did not occur until 2018 when Elisabetta refused to acknowledge her brother’s interest. Because Marco filed his action in 2018, the trial court found that the action was timely. Elisabetta appealed, contending that the applicable statute of limitations under Code of Civil Procedure section 343 is four years, which began to run when she repudiated Marco’s interest in 2012. Marco contended that it began to run in 2018, when Elisabetta stated she would not sell the Property and said the Property was hers.

The California Second District Court of Appeal held in favor for Elisabetta, though disagreeing with her contention. Even though the trial court stated that it would impose a resulting trust, it only issued an interlocutory order and did not impose the resulting trust. “The statute of limitations may be resorted to in an action, so far as it establishes an interest in the Property.” (Akley v. Bassett (1922) 189 Cal. 625, 645.) In such circumstances, the courts determine the gravamen of the plaintiff’s claim to a property interest. (Hensler v. City of Glendale (1994) 8 Cal.4th 1, 22.) This means that in determining the applicable statute of limitations, it is necessary to identify the nature of the cause of action.

The Court of Appeal found that since Marco’s claim was that Elisabetta breached an oral agreement that each of them would be co-equal owners of the Property, despite only putting her name on the title, Marco’s cause of action was for breach of oral contract of breach of an oral partnership agreement. For breach of an oral agreement or oral partnership, the statute of limitations is two years. (CCP § 339; Lucioni v. Bank of America, N.A.(2016) 3 Cal.App.5th 150, 164.) The Court of Appeal held that the “uncontradicted and unimpeached” evidence demonstrated that no later than 2013, Elisabetta repudiated her oral agreement with Marco when he asked Elisabetta to sell the Property and split the proceeds because she stated it was her house. Marco testified at trial that he agreed with her statement at that time. Thus, Marco’s cause of action for partition accrued in 2013, which meant his claim was barred by the statute of limitations. Even if the statute of limitations was four years like Elisabetta claimed, the Court of Appeal found that Marco’s claim would have still been time barred. Further, even if the trail court had imposed a resulting trust, Marco’s claim would still be time barred under the four-year statute of limitations.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

Factors such as time play a significant role in partition actions, which can make or break a partition suit. As analyzed above, it is important to keep track of the dates and bring an action within an appropriate amount of time. A mistake as to when to bring an action can ultimately lead to the action’s demise.

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.

Learn more here.

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