Southern California Partition Lawyers

Southern California is most well known for its sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and movie industry. It includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. The population of Southern California is estimated at 24 million spread out over 56 million acres. Southern California is bordered by the Colorado River on the East, Mexico on the South, the Pacific Ocean on the West, and is largely agreed to end in the San Luis Obispo area. As a large region, Southern California Partition lawyers find that common ownership of property frequently causes disputes in four main 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?

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 Southern California Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What are the steps in a Partition Action?

The first step to a partition action is to petition the court for a partition of the property. In order to petition the court, a litigant must file a legally valid complaint for partition. As noted above, the litigant must be a co-owner of the subject property in order to have standing to file a partition complaint. (CCP § 872.210.)

Second, after filing the complaint, a litigant must then obtain an interlocutory judgment of partition in the correct procedural form. An interlocutory judgment is a temporary judgment ordered before the close of trial during the litigation of the case. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 872.720, the court must enter an interlocutory judgment when the court finds that the Plaintiff in a partition action is entitled to a partition. In order to obtain an interlocutory judgment, a litigant must establish their right to partition by proving they have an ownership interest in the subject property.

Third, if the court finds that a litigant has an ownership interest in the subject property and grants an interlocutory judgment of partition, the court will then appoint a partition referee to oversee the partition of the property. A partition referee is a neutral third party appointed by and accountable to the court to assist the court in matters related to partition actions. (CCP § 873.510.)

Fourth, Once the referee has provided the court with their report, the court must determine the proper method for partitioning the subject property. The court determines the proper method of partition by determining which method of partition is more equitable.

Fifth, once the court has determined the proper method of partitioning the subject property, the court will then order a final judgment of partition, and the property will be partitioned according to the proper method determined by the court. If the court orders a partition by sale, there must be an accounting to distribute the proceeds of the sale in strict compliance with the requirements of the evidentiary code. A top Southern California Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can you mediate a partition action?

Generally, anyone considering filing a lawsuit should consider all of their alternatives, including an informal resolution of the problem. This can take the form of a discussion with the other owner or owners about agreeing to sell the property, negotiating with the co-owner to create a formula to divide the proceeds from the sale, or retaining a lawyer to engage in a mediation with the other owners.

Throughout the partition process, and even on the day of trial, any of the owners can make an agreement about the sale of the property. This can happen through a phone call, through negotiations between the parties' lawyers, or through a mediation session with a retired judge or trained mediator. There are many benefits from a mediation session, including confidentiality provisions contained in the law in Evidence Code sections 1115 through 1129.

Specifically, Evidence Code section 1119, subdivision (a), provides "no evidence of anything said or any admission made for the purpose of, in the course of, or pursuant to, a mediation or a mediation consultation is admissible or subject to discovery, and disclosure of the evidence shall not be compelled in any arbitration, administrative adjudication, civil action, or other noncriminal proceeding in which, pursuant to law, testimony can be compelled to be given." A knowledgeable Southern California 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. (Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24.) An experienced Southern California Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Weinsaft v. Deckel (2022)

A right of mandatory intervention takes place when a nonparty, deemed an intervenor, becomes a party to an action. (CCP § 387, subd. (b).) Upon a timely application, a court will permit a nonparty to intervene in the action when the proposed intervenor has (1) an unconditional right to intervene granted by law; or (2) “an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action [when] that person is so situated that the disposition of the action may impair or impede that person's ability to protect that interest, unless that person's interest is adequately represented by one or more of the existing parties.” (CCP § 387, subd. (d)(1)(B).) The following paragraphs examine the connection between timely filing and a court's decision to grant intervention in a partition settlement action, as demonstrated in the case Weinsaft v. Deckel (2022) 2022 WL 17546706.

In Weinsaft, the prospective intervenors and appellants, Jonathan, Adam, and Alyssa Deckel, sought appeal from the trial court's denial of their motion to intervene in their father Ami Deckel’s (“Ami” hereinafter) underlying suit against Leonard Weinsaft (“Weinsaft” hereinafter). Weinsaft and Phoebe Deckel, wife of Ami and sister to Weinsaft, were 50 percent owners as tenants in common of two side-by-side apartment buildings in West Hollywood (the “Property”). They had inherited the Property from their deceased parents years prior. In 2019, Weinsaft filed suit against Ami and Phoebe Deckel seeking partition of the Property where litigation continued until 2020. In March 2020, a two phase settlement agreement was reached that provided for the sale of the Property and an even distribution of proceeds. The first phase of the settlement mandated that the parties would use two brokers to sell the Property within one year. If the settlement was breached or if the Property was not sold, phase two of the settlement would begin, where either party can have a stipulated judgment entered and filed by the court. The court will thereafter appoint a referee to conduct a partition by sale and manage the Property in the interim period.

In October 2020, several months after the settlement agreement was reached, Ami transferred his interest in the Property to his three children, the appellants. However, the appellants did not immediately intervene in Ami’s pending action, and there was no indication that the court received notice of the transfer. Because the Property did not sell within a year of the settlement, Weinsaft sought a stipulated judgement for partition and sale through an appointed referee as mandated in phase two of the settlement. The court granted Weinsaft’s application in April 2021 to enforce the settlement despite Ami’s evidentiary objection that he lacked the requisite mental capacity to enter into the settlement agreement upon signing. The appellants Jonathan, Adam, and Alyssa Deckel, filed a motion to: (1) intervene or substitute in as defendants; (2) cancel, rescind and void the March 2020 settlement agreement; (3) set aside and vacate the April 2021 judgment; and (4) relieve the referee. The trial court denied all the motions, finding the request untimely because intervention is not permitted post-judgement and the appellant’s did not make an effort to intervene until several months after they acquired their interests in the Property.

The Court of Appeals for the Second District affirmed the trial court’s rulings holding that the appellants did not meet the threshold requirements of filing the intervention request. The Court of Appeal stated that it is a general rule that the intervener must not be guilty of unreasonable delay after knowledge of a suit. Timeliness in a motion to intervene is accessed using three primary factors: (1) the stage of the proceeding at which an applicant seeks to intervene; (2) the prejudice to other parties; and (3) the reason for the delay. (Crestwood, supra, 70 Cal.App.5th at p. 574.)

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s legal standard that intervention is not permitted post-judgement and held that intervention can be appropriate after post-judgment. However, because the trial court did not deny the motion to intervene solely because the motion was brought post-judgment, reversal was not warranted. In addition to considering the stage of the proceeding, the trial court also relied on facts in the case that weighed in favor of finding untimeliness indicating an unreasonable delay. For example, the appellants did not intervene until several months after they received their interest in the Property which equated to a 200 day gap until the motion to intervene was filed.

Likewise, the appellants did not offer a valid reason for failing to intervene earlier in the action. The appellants claimed they had no reason to intervene before April 2021, when Weinsaft sought to enforce phase two of the settlement, because Ami’s opposition to enforcing the settlement was dismissed. Appellants also claimed, without citing any case authority, that the trial court would not have permitted intervention prior to April 2021 because of the dismissal. However, the Court of Appeal held that it was foreseeable that Weinsaft would move to enforce the settlement prior to April 2021. This anticipation was based on the fact that the property had not been sold in phase one of the settlement, and as per the settlement terms, the court would proceed with a partition sale in phase two. Because appellants had notice of the motion to enforce the settlement and did not have support for the contention that the trial court would have denied an intervention motion filed earlier, the Court of Appeal held that there was not a legitimate explanation for the delay.

In regards to prejudice, the appellants alleged that Weinsaft would not suffer any prejudice because the partition proceedings had not started. However, prior to the intervention request, the referee had already performed significant work to execute the partition sale such as writing to tenants and securing a trust account to hold funds for the sale proceeds. Additionally, even though there were not any purchase offers when the appellants requested intervention, there were multiple offers on the Property in the year prior to the intervention request. Because of these factors, the Court of Appeal held that the intervention would prejudice Weinsaft because it would jeopardized the settlement and partition proceedings.

Given that the motion to intervene was untimely and would result in prejudice if granted, the Court of Appeals for the Second District ruled that the appellants did not meet the threshold requirement of filing a timely intervention request and affirmed the trial court’s decision.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

A court’s decision to grant a motion to intervene depends both on the interests in the property at stake and whether or not the intervenor is guilty of undue delay upon filing. If you think you may have an interest in a property that may be partitioned by sale, it is imperative to timely file a motion to intervene before judgment is reached on the partition. You may benefit from sound legal advice regarding if or when you should file a motion to intervene based on a property interest. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consultation.

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