Santa Rosa Partition Lawyers

Santa Rosa is the largest city in Sonoma County and the fifth most populous city in the Bay Area. As the central city in California's famous Wine Country, Santa Rosa is known for having the best wineries and vineyards right in its backyard, with over 300 options to choose from. Santa Rosa was founded in 1833 and named after Saint Rosa of Lima. With the growth of the wine industry, many Santa Rosa citizens live in the condominium developments around town. When parties jointly purchase a condominium together, but cannot agree about its use, then a partition action may be a valid way to resolve joint ownership problems. Santa Rosa Partition Attorneys usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing joint owners in four broad categories:

  • Parent-Child shared tenants in common in real estate;
  • Brother-Sister shared tenants in common in real estate;
  • Investor-Investor shared tenants in common in real estate; and
  • Significant others shared tenants in common in real estate;
What is a Partition Action in California?

A partition action is a judicially-supervised forced sale of real estate. In California, each co-owner has an "absolute" right to partition the property. "Ordinarily, if the party seeking partition is shown to be a tenant in common, and as such entitled to the possession of the land sought to be partitioned, the right to partition is absolute, and cannot be denied, 'either because of any supposed difficulty, nor on the suggestion that the interest of the co-tenants will be promoted by refusing the application nor temporarily postponing the action." (Priddel v. Shankie (1945) 69 Cal.App.2d 319, 325 (emphasis added).) Thus, any owner of real estate (whether 5%, 50%, or 95%) has the right to bring a partition action in California.

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.

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.

What are Claims for "Contribution"?

Code of Civil Procedure section 874.140 states that the "court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustments among the parties according to the principles of equity."

The court in Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24 stated that the payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be subject to reimbursement. These claims for reimbursement are commonly known as "offsets" in a partition action.

Further, the court under Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, announced that a co-tenant who expends money for the preservation of the property, or with the [acceptance] of their co-tenant(s), is entitled to reimbursement for those expenditures before the division of the proceeds among the property owners.

That is, the general rule is that compensatory adjustments are appropriate for improvements that enhance the value of the property for all owners' benefit. (see Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.)

Can a Partition Action be Settled Through Mediation or Negotiation?

A partition action can always be resolved informally at any time prior to the first day of trial. 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 Partition Case Study: Hernandez v. Luna

An important consideration in any lawsuit is which party carries the burden of proof. Generally, the burden of proof initially is on the plaintiff, or the party carrying out the lawsuit. However, depending on how the case develops, the burden of proof can shift from party to party. It is important to recognize when the burden may shift to you.

The party bearing the burden of proof is under a lot of pressure. They must prove their case before the court with solid arguments backed by proper case law or statutes. Courts are unwilling to accept lazy or unsupported arguments, especially when the party has the burden of proof. The party bearing the burden of proof must also prove their case using the evidence available to them. It is vital that the party picks not only the right legal authorities for their arguments, but also the right evidence from the record.

Hernandez v. Luna, Cal.App.Unpub. (2022) WL 16757487, is a cautionary tale of what could happen if a party is unprepared to handle the burden of proof. Just as a plaintiff usually has burden of proof at trial, an appellant, or a party appealing to the Court of Appeal, has the burden of proof on appeal. It is vital that parties are prepared to meet this burden, or risk having their arguments dismissed.

Hernandez and Luna co-owned the property at issue in Hernandez. (Id., at 1.) In September 2017, Hernandez sued Luna for partition, and the property was partitioned by sale in December 2018. (Id.) The trial court divided the proceeds equally between the two parties according to their ownership interests. (Id.)

Later, Hernandez moved for attorney fees, which the court awarded for the time between when the lawsuit began to when the property was sold. (Id.) The court also scheduled another hearing to determine Hernandez's attorney fees. (Id.) Luna appealed, but the judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeal. (Id.)

At the next hearing, Hernandez moved for attorney fees once again. (Id.) The court awarded all of Hernandez's attorney fees from September 2017 to December 2018, on appeal, and for her motion. (Id.) However, the trial court only awarded 50 percent of her attorney fees for the period of December 2018 through the trial, which was proportional to Hernandez's interest in the property. (Id.) Luna appealed again, but the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court's judgment. (Id.)

Since Luna was the party appealing to the Court of Appeal, he had the burden of proof. Luna had to make a convincing argument that the trial court's handling of Hernandez's attorney fees was flawed in some way. As previously mentioned, the burden of proof contains a lot of pressure for a party to carry. Unfortunately, it seemed that Luna buckled under that pressure.

Luna first argued that Hernandez's argument was erroneously based on section 1032, subdivision (b) of the California Code of Civil Procedure when the issue of recovering fees should have been controlled by section 874.040. (Id., at 2.) However, Hernandez did argue using section 874.040. (Id.) Additionally, the trial court based its attorney fee order on section 874.040. (Id.) The Court of Appeal concluded that Luna's argument here failed. (Id.)

Luna next argued that since the trial court did not explain the equitable principles it used to award Hernandez her attorney fees, the matter can be remanded because Luna could show evidence that paid for most of the expenses of the property. (Id.) However, Luna offered no case law or evidence supporting his argument. (Id.) The Court of Appeal wrote:

. . . [H]e provides no authority demonstrating that the court prejudicially erred by failing to explain its decision in detail. Moreover, he does not explain why the evidence that he proposes to offer would show that the court prejudicially erred. And he fails to address Hernandez's arguments that it was equitable to make him liable for her fees. The record does not even include the briefing related to Hernandez's first motion for attorney fees, in which she persuaded the court that he should be liable for her fees from September 2017 to December 2018. Luna must provide reasoned argument supported by citations to authority . . . His unsupported arguments and the incomplete record are insufficient to show that the court prejudicially abused its discretion. (Id.)

Luna was completely unequipped to meet his burden here, and the Court of Appeal rejected this argument. (Id.)

Luna then argued that the courts should have ordered the parties to either bear their own fees or limit the fee award to the time period of September 2017 to December 2018. (Id.) Luna once again had no legal authority to support this argument. (Id.) His attempts again flopped before the Court of Appeal. (Id.)

Luna finally argued that Hernandez solely relied on a case that was distinguishable from the current case when Hernandez made her arguments before the trial court. (Id.) On this, Luna was simply wrong. (Id.) Hernandez had also used other legal authorities in making her argument about awarding attorney fees in partition actions. (Id.) Luna's contentions again failed before the Court of Appeal, who affirmed the trial court's attorney fee order. (Id., at 3.)

Hernandez is instructive of how to lose a case on appeal by not understanding one's burden of proof. Luna failed to meet the basic requirements of having a cohesive and convincing legal argument before the Court of Appeal at every turn. Luna not only blundered in lacking any legal authorities to back his claims, but he was also wrong about the opposing party's own arguments.

When presenting a case while bearing the burden of proof, it is critical to use all the tools available to you. The party must consider case law, statutes, and evidence. Additionally, the party must also analyze the opposing party's legal support and evidence for its arguments to identify any potential weaknesses. Luna failed to do any of that, and Hernandez demonstrates the consequences of such poor preparation.

How the Underwood Law Firm, P.C. Can Help

As seen in Hernandez, it is important to present a legal argument that meets the basic requirements of being supported by legal authorities and evidence. This does not apply just to partition law, but to all lawsuits. Courts will not appreciate it if a party fails to meet the burden of proof. It is important for parties to understand what their burden is and how to make arguments that will pass that basic checkpoint.

Here at Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding partitions. If you are trying to plan a partition order, or just have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office.

Learn more here.

Client Reviews
“We were in need of a real estate attorney. Eli Underwood provided excellent legal advice and services. He explained everything well and followed through with all important issues that needed attention. We found him to be reliable, courteous, patient and extremely professional. We highly recommend Mr. Underwood without any reservations.” I.S.
"I own a real estate investment company that operates across multiple states (California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and more), whenever I run into an issue that needs legal attention, Eli is my first call. I've been working with him for years. He is an amazing attorney and I highly recommend him." Thank you for your help Sir!" T.W.
"Mr. Underwood is a fantastic Lawyer with extraordinary ethics. He responds quickly, which is rare these days, and he is very knowledgeable in his craft. It was a pleasure working with him and we will definitely use his services in the future if needed. Thank you for your help Sir!" M.O.
"Eli took our case and controlled every hurdle put before us. I one time commented to him that he must love his job because it seemed that he was always available. When talking about my case to anyone I always bring up where, I believe, the other parties Lawyer tried to take advantage of my wife and me. Eli stopped him in his tracks. On top of it being easy to work with Eli, it was a pleasure to have had him represent us. We were in good hands." E.T
"We were in need of an attorney with considerable knowledge of real estate law and the legal issues related to property ownership. Eli Underwood went above and beyond our expectations. In keeping us abreast of our suit, his communication skills were outstanding. This talent was especially demonstrated when dealing with the apposing counsel. We feel this gave us a tremendous advantage over the opposing party that resulted in us reaching a successful outcome. I would highly recommend Eli Underwood as we found him to be an exceptional attorney." P.B.
"In our need for legal services we found Eli to be well informed and on top of our case and our needs. Our's was not an ordinary case as it was a case with many facets. It was a very convoluted case. There were multiple owners involved in a property dispute where one of the owners sued the rest of the owners with a Partition Suit. Needless to say Eli was instrumental in helping us resolve our differences and gained us a profitable sale all with good end results for all. If you hire Eli Underwood you will not be disappointed!" M.A.