Santa Clarita Partition Lawyers

The City of Santa Clarita is a town with a long history that dates back to 3000 BC. Now, Santa Clarita is the third largest city in Los Angeles County. As approximately 70% of the homes in Santa Clarita are owner-occupied, this suggests that many homes are jointly owned. Generally, the best Santa Clarita Partition Lawyers usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Split real estate dispute;
  • Brother-Sister real estate dispute;
  • Investor-Investor real estate dispute; and
  • Significant other real estate dispute
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 Santa Clarita Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Broadly, a partition action has only relatively simple steps. First, a party files a lawsuit to establish their rights to the property and desire to sell the property. Second, the court determines that the property should be sold, and appoints an appraiser to appraise the property and offer the other owner the opportunity to buy out the interest. Third, if the other fails to do so, then the Court appoints a “partition referee” (who is frequently a licensed Realtor) to sell the property, and they market and sell the property and deposits the proceeds into a trust account. Fourth, the court determines how much each party should receive from the proceeds, which should include addressing offsets and claims for contribution in an “accounting.” A top Santa Clarita Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

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 Santa Clarita Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

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 Santa Clarita Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

A Partition Case Study: Tolley v. Kobzoff

When a court issues an order for the partition of real property, how may the court apportion the costs of conducting the sale of the property when an interested party, who is responsible for managing the sale, unreasonably delays or mishandles the process? How the court apportions the costs of the sale of property depends on the court’s own discretion regarding what is equitable. The following paragraphs discuss how such circumstances affected the outcome of Tolley v. Kobzoff et al. (2020) 2020 WL 7223373.

In Tolley, Ms. Lori Tolley (the “Tolley” or “Plaintiff” or “Respondent”) filed a partition action against her siblings, Fred Kobzoff and Bonnie Kobzoff (the “Defendants” or “Appellants”). Tolley pleaded causes of action for the partition of real and personal property and for an accounting of costs.

Tolley and the Defendants inherited their interests in the Property from their father, Alex Kobzoff, who passed away in August 2003. Mr. Kobzoff's assets were distributed pursuant to the rules of intestate succession. In late 2005, Fred, in his capacity as administrator of the estate, deeded title to the Property to himself and his siblings as tenants in common. Consequently, Tolley, Fred, and Bonnie each owned an undivided one-third (1/3) interest in a certain property located in Chowchilla, California (the “Property”).

Tolley, Fred, and Bonnie all agreed that Fred would be responsible for managing the property and getting it sold “as soon as practically possible.” In 2006, however, Fred rejected a purchase offer of approximately $300,000 without telling Tolley, who did not learn about the offer until after Fred had rejected it. An entire decade passed without Fred selling the Property or communicating with Tolley about his management of the Property.

Tolley brought the partition lawsuit against her siblings after discovering that the house on the Property had been destroyed by a fire in 2016. Because Fred had failed to maintain the necessary insurance, the entire value of the home was lost in the fire. At a hearing in 2018 on Tolley's three causes of action, Tolley represented that “[n]umerous offers for sale of the property were received over the course of time, but [Fred] refused to even consider all of the offers, and when questioned about it, said he didn't care what his sisters wanted to do—he wanted to hold on to the property.” Tolley “entreated her brother on numerous occasions to consider these other offers,” but he refused to do so.

At the hearing, the parties had mutually agreed to accept a purchase offer and the property had been placed in escrow. Having incurred legal expenses to this end, Tolley asked the court to award her the costs of partition, including attorney fees, as she had prayed for in her complaint. After the trial court issued a tentative ruling to award Tolley the costs of partition and impose those costs against Fred, Tolley dismissed her claims for the partition of personal property and for an accounting.

On June 18, 2018, the trial court adopted its tentative ruling and entered an interlocutory judgment ordering “that the property be sold and the proceeds divided among the parties according to their respective [one third] interests,” subject to a costs award in favor of Tolley. The costs of suit and costs of partition, “including the cost of a policy of title insurance, if any, and reasonable attorneys' fees,” were ordered to be deducted from Fred's share of the sale proceeds. Fred and Bonnie appealed.

On appeal, Appellants Fred and Bonnie did not dispute the part of the trial court’s interlocutory judgment ordering sale of the property and division of the proceeds. They merely claimed that the trial court had erred in ordering Fred to pay the costs of partition rather than apportioning the costs equally among the three siblings. The Court disagreed with Appellants.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal noted that, pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 874.040, “‘a trial court shall apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interest or make such other apportionment as may be equitable’ (Italics added.).” Additionally, “The standard of review for an interlocutory judgment of partition is abuse of discretion.” (Cummings v. Dessel (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 589, 597.)

In holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion, the Court of Appeal reasoned that the ruling must stand unless appellants “establish that the trial court exceeded the bounds of reason, resulting in a miscarriage of justice.” ((Lin v. Jeng (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1008, 1025; see Haraguchi v. Superior Court (2008) 43 Cal.4th 706, 712 [a trial court's “application of the law to the facts is reversible only if arbitrary and capricious”].) The trial court’s rulings are presumed correct and appellants bear the burden to demonstrate error with legal analysis and citations to evidence in the record supporting any factual assertions. (See Equilon Enterprises LLC v. Board of Equalization (2010) 189 Cal.App.4th 865, 881; Bullock v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 655, 685.)

According to the Court of Appeal, Tolley’s complaint and the testimony provided to the trial court established that Fred had agreed to sell the property in 2006. Fred’s refusal to honor the agreement for 11 years and acquiescence to selling the Property following Tolley's lawsuit permitted the trial court to reasonably infer that Tolley would not have incurred the costs of partition but for Fred's obstructive behavior. Moreover, evidence of Kobzoff's mismanagement of the Property demonstrated that the trial court's ruling was neither arbitrary nor outside the bounds of reason.

Thus, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s interlocutory judgment and awarded costs on appeal to Tolley.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As we’ve seen, how a court apportions the costs of the sale of property depends on the court’s own discretion regarding what is equitable. When an interested party, who is responsible for managing the sale, unreasonably delays or mishandles the sale, the court may apportion costs against that party.

As there are many different ways to waive the right of partition, and you are considering it as an option, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition action, or faced with defending one, then please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C. for an initial consultation.

Learn more here.

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