South Gate Partition Lawyer

The City of South Gate was originally part of the Lugo Spanish Land Grant and the land was used for cattle raising. It wasn't until 1910 that most of the agricultural land was replaced by housing developments and factories. Today, South Gate is a town with a dense suburban feel, just seven miles from Downtown Los Angeles. South Gate is part of the "Gateway Cities" of Los Angeles County. According to Redfin, In June 2023, South Gate home prices were up 4.5% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $640K. On average, homes in South Gate sell after 30 days on the market compared to 41 days last year. There were 9 homes sold in June this year, down from 12 last year. Many South Gate residents may feel the urge to move away from the busy city to a fresh start with the equity from their property. Jointly owned real estate may cause issues and disputes between co-owners. As such, residents of South Gate who own property may face disputes with co-owners. Often, Partition Lawyers in South Gate find that joint ownership problems fall into four broad categories:

  • Father/Mother-Son/Daughter 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
  • Non-Married Partners shared tenants in common in real estate;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition action occurs when there are two or more title holders to a piece of property, and these title holders are unable to reach an agreement on splitting the subject property. Typically, a litigant brings a partition action to have the court force the sale of or split the subject property. Therefore, when a piece of personal property is concurrently owned by several people, one of the owners may bring a partition action to have the court divide the subject property. In the past, California courts have partitioned not only real estate but also, shares of stock, cash, and businesses.     Generally, an action for partition can be brought forth by a co-owner of real property and a co-owner of personal property. Notably, a court can partition not only real property or real estate but also personal property of any kind. (CCP § 872.230(a).) The best South Gate Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

First, a partition action is filed. A partition action can be filed if one co-owner of real property or a piece of real estate wishes to sell the property or piece of real estate in question but the other co-owners or co-tenants do not wish to sell their ownership rights. 

Second, the court may appoint a court referee to oversee the sale of the property in question. The sales procedure includes that all parties agree to the terms and conditions of the sale in writing. If the parties can not agree, as partition actions are usually very contested issues, then the referee that the court appointed may recommend terms and conditions to the court. Then the court will hold a hearing to decide whether or not to accept those terms and conditions.

Third, in California, the property’s value will be appraised via a third party or another property appraisal with no ties to any of the parties. While this is not required in all states, it is recommended to make sure that all parties are on the same metaphorical page as to the potential sale proceeds of the property in question.

Fourth, the referee will conduct the sale in the method most agreeable to all of the party’s goals. This can be via a public auction or a private sale. Regardless of the specific method of partition by sale, the court will determine if the sale was “fair.” If it is decided that the property’s sale proceeds had a lack of proper notice, the sale amount is not within reasonable the value of the property, or if the proceeds were unfair- the court would rule that the property will be up for sale again.

Lastly, the court will order that the proceeds of the sale, minus any court litigated or approved offsets or costs, will be distributed equitably amongst all of the co-owners or people with interest in the property. A top South Gate Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Mediate a Partition Action?

The Court may award attorneys’ fees in the partition action that are paid by a party to the action for the common benefit of all the co-owners. (CCP § 872.010.) The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue directly, holding that under former section 796, the predecessor to the current partition cost statute, “counsel fees may be allowed ... for services rendered for the common benefit even in contested partition suits.” (Capuccio v. Caire (1932) 215 Cal. 518, 528-529 (Capuccio).)

Moreover, cases interpreting those sections continue to permit the allocation of attorney fees in contested partition actions. (Forrest v. Elam (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 164, 174.) From these authorities it is evident that the “common benefit” in a partition action is the proper distribution of the “‘respective shares and interests in said property by the ultimate judgment of the court.’ ” (Capuccio, 215 Cal. at p. 528.) This sometimes will require that “ ‘controversies’ ” be “ ‘litigated’ ” to correctly determine those shares and interests but this ultimately can be for the common benefit as well. The fact that a party resists the partition does not change this. (See Randell v. Randell (1935) 4 Cal.2d 575, 582 [“The presence and litigation of controversial issues between all the parties does not preclude the allowance of attorney's fees for services connected with such issues where such services are found to be for the common benefit of the parties.”].) A knowledgeable South Gate Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

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.) An experienced South Gate Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Coefoed v. Mejo (2007) 2007 WL 2165372

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.” Section 874.040 provides, in part, that the court shall apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interest or make such other apportionment as may be equitable. Generally, an award of attorney fees in a partition action follows a two step process.

First, the court determines the reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred or paid by the parties for the common benefit to effectuate the distribution of sales proceeds. Fees and costs do not cease being for the “common benefit” merely because they were incurred in matters “controversial in nature.” (Capuccio v. Caire (1932) 215 Cal. 518, 525-526, 11 P.2d. 1097.) Litigation ceases to be for the “common benefit” only when it “arises between some of the parties only” (id. at p. 529, 11 P.2d 1097.)

Second, the court apportions the fees and costs incurred for the common benefit among the parties in proportion to their interests in the property unless the court determines some other apportionment is equitable. Koefoed v. Camejo (2007) 2007 WL 2165372 provides an example of how a defendant can appeal a judgment that mandated the payment of 100 percent of the plaintiff’s attorney fees in a partition action based on equitable considerations.

In Koefoed v. Camejo, plaintiff Christopher Koefoed and defendant Suzanne Camejo purchased a home in West Los Angeles in 1988 for $250,000, a year after the birth of their daughter. Camejo supplied approximately $28,000 toward the down payment and Koefoed contributed approximately $36,000. Koefoed alleged that Camejo physically ousted him from the property in 1990 over an infidelity dispute. Koefoed alleged that Camejo removed his belongings from the house while he was out of town for a job assignment. Thereafter, Camejo fully paid the mortgage and supported her daughter. In 1999, Camejo refinanced the property without Koefoed's knowledge or consent. She did this by forging Koefoed's signature on a deed quit claiming the property to her. Koefoed did not receive any of the net proceeds from refinancing the loan and that the terms of the new mortgage were less favorable than those of the prior one. Koefoed brought an action seeking damages and equitable relief stemming from Camejo's refinancing fraud. He also sought an order partitioning the property by sale and an allocation of the proceeds as provided by law and equity.

The trial court ordered the sale of the real property owned by Koefoed and Camejo and awarded Koefoed his attorney fees and costs out of defendant's share. Following the sale of the property for $683,250, the trial court entered a final judgment. In allocating the net proceeds of $393,654 between the parties, the court credited Koefoed with $174,759 which it found to be one-half the imputed rental value of the property. The allocation to the parties prior to adjustments for attorney fees and costs was $218, 625 to Koefoed and $175,029 to Camejo. The court required Camejo to pay Koefoed's attorney fees and costs incurred in the partition action in the amount of $54,667. Thus, as a result of the sale Koefoed netted the sum of $273,292 while Camejo received $120,362 and is responsible for paying her own attorney fees and costs. Camejo appealed and alleged the trial court erred in awarding one half the imputed rental value of the premises to plaintiff and in awarding plaintiff his attorney fees and costs from defendant's share of the proceeds.

The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment that awarded Koefoed one half the imputed rental value of the premises and reversed as to the award of attorney fees and costs. Regarding the imputed rental value, the Court of Appeal explained that generally when two persons own real property as tenants in common and only one of them lives on the property, the cotenant out of possession is not entitled to recover the imputed rental value of the property from the cotenant in possession. (Brunscher v. Reagh (1958) 164 Cal.App.2d 174, 176, 330 P.2d 396.) An exception to the rule is that when one cotenant is ousted from the property, they can recover rental value from the cotenant in possession. (Estate of Hughes (1992) 5 Cal.App.4th 1607, 1611, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 742.) Here, the Court of appeal found that there was credible evidence to support the trial court’s judgment that Koefoed was physically ousted by Camejo based on Koefoed’s testimony that Camejo pushed him out and hauled his belongings to his office.

In contrast, the Court of Appeal held the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Koefoed his attorney fees and costs from Camejo's share of the proceeds. Finding the existence of “exceptional circumstances,” the trial court ordered that Koefoed recover 100 percent of his attorney fees and costs in the partition portion of the action. The Court of Appeal agreed that where the parties disputed not only Koefoed's entitlement to a partition of the property but the proper allocation of the proceeds from the sale of the property, the fees and costs incurred by each party were for the common benefit. Although the Court of Appeal reasoned that there was not an equitable basis to deviate from allocating fees and costs among the parties according to their property interest.

The trial court found two “exceptional circumstances” to deviate from the normal allocation. The first “exceptional circumstance” was that, in the trial court's view, once the jury had found for Koefoed in the fraud action there was not a need for any trial on the partition matter but for Camejo's “intransigence.” The Court of Appeal rejected this reasoning because they did not see the connection between fraud action and partition action. The fraud action was to recover damages resulting from Camejo’s improper refinancing of the property while the partition action was an equitable action directing at forcing the sale of the property over the objection of the cotenant. The partition trial was needed as there was extensive evaluation testimony from experts for both parties. The second “exceptional circumstance” was that the defenses’ position on the accounting matters was generally unsupportable and could have been resolved in two hours but for the defenses’ obfuscation. The Court of Appeal held the trial court erred factually and legally because the reporter's transcript showed the testimony of Camejo's evaluation expert was completed in approximately two hours. The testimony of Koefoed's expert took longer.

As a result, the Second District Court of Appeal concluded the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees and costs to Koefoed and remanded the cause to the trial court for an equal apportionment of the combined attorney fees and costs of both parties.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

While the allocation of attorney fees incurred for the common benefit are normally paid in proportion to each party’s respective interest in the property, the court can mandate another allocation that’s more equitable. For example, in Koefoed v. Camejo, the trial court ruled that Camejo needed to pay 100 percent of Koefoed’s attorney fees based on equitable considerations. While appealing the apportion of attorney fees based on unfavorable equitable considerations is possible, it’s important to have attorney’s that can advocate on your behalf at the trial court level. If you are thinking of initiating a partition action, you may benefit from legal advice on risk attorney fee allocation between the parties. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consultation.

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