Stockton Partition Lawyers

Stockton Partition LawyersStockton, the county seat of San Joaquin County, is located in the Central Valley and was founded by Carlos Maria Weber in 1849. The city is surrounded by thousands of miles of rivers and waterways which make up the California Delta. As one of the largest cities in California, Stockton residents frequently confront problems with jointly owned property. Stockton Partition Lawyers often 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 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."

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.

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?

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 Partition Case Study: Mohun v. Elbright

Partitions can be a tricky legal process to navigate, even for courts. It’s difficult to balance all the wants and needs of the parties while also taking into consideration any zoning or conservation laws. There is often a complex web of policies and regulations that must be carefully navigated, and courts are often extremely concerned with possibly violating any land-use restrictions.

Due to topography and location, real estate can be subject to all sorts of laws that a court will try and account for, sometimes to the detriment of a party. So long as a court feels that the partition was reasonable, a court will allow the partition to stand even if it may not be fully equitable. That is why it is important to have a partition lawyer, to navigate the ins and outs of how a partition can conflict with land-use regulations.

Mohun v. Elbright, (2002) Cal.App.Unpub WL 31647939, is an example of what happens when equity of partition division conflicts with land-use regulations. Despite the court even acknowledging that the partition was unlikely to make everyone happy, the partition was allowed to stand due to the various legal constraints set by zoning ordinances and conservation policies. (Id., at 6.)

The property in question in Mohun, was a large, 276-acre ranch where three families lived. (Id., at 1.) Those three families were the Mohuns, the Ebrights, and the Neals, who were all co-owners of the lranch with varying interest percentages. (Id.) These ownership interests were initially made in 1990 and adjusted in 2001 as the shares were passed down to the co-owners' children. (Id.) However, the Mohuns eventually sued the Ebrights for a greater ownership share of the land, leading to a lawsuit that lasted several years. (Id.) The referee issued his recommendation for such a three-part division of the property, which the trial court adopted and ordered to be carried out. (Id.)

The land was divided into three parts, called parcels. (Id., at 2.) The three parcels were labeled Parcel 36, Parcel 63, and Parcel 64. (Id.) Parcel 63 was given completely to the Ebrights. (Id.) Parcel 36 was sold, and the proceeds were distributed among the parties equal to their percentage share of the entire property. (Id.) For Parcel 64, the Mohuns and the Neals each got 40 acres while the Ebrights were given 139 acres. (Id.) The Mohuns felt that their portion of Parcel 64 had the least value, since it contained a hilly area. (Id., at 3.) Though the Mohuns requested additional land that included a flat area, the trial court rejected this request, and instead gave the Mohuns a greater portion of the proceeds from the sale of parcel 36. (Id.) The trial court concluded that this three-part partition was fair and reasonable given the circumstances and held for the partition order to be implemented. (Id., at 6.)

However, the Mohuns were not happy with this deal since they were not given the more valuable land that they wanted. (Id., at 3.) The Mohuns appealed, but the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id., at 2.)

One issue the trial court faced while looking at the partition order was the effect of local regulations. (Id.) Parcel 64 was subject to a zoning ordinance that allowed only one residence per 60 acres in areas for agricultural use, and the Mohuns argued that their 40 acres partition violated this ordinance. (Id.)

Additionally, there were two other land-use regulations involving this parcel that the trial court had to consider. One was the Land Conservation Act, which prohibited the parcel from being divided into parts smaller than 40 acres. (Id., at 4.) The other was the County General Plan’s policy against subdividing agricultural land. (Id.) But if subdivision of agricultural land was necessary, the County General Plan’s policy was for the new lots to be close together in clusters. (Id.) All of these different considerations made it difficult for the trial court to create a partition order that accommodated every regulation and policy while remaining equitable to the parties.

To reconcile the partition order with these regulations and policies, the trial court relied on an expert planner. (Id.) The planner stated that the zoning ordinance prohibited the subdivision of land into parts less than 60 acres only if it was for new developments of that land. (Id.) He testified that this did not prevent the partition of already developed land into parts less than 60 acres, as the Mohuns argued. (Id.) The trial court used the planner’s advice to create a partition order which it believed would not violate regulations, and the Court of Appeals upheld that partition order. (Id.)

The Mohuns also argued that the partition was unfair, complaining how they were not given any of the valuable land that the Ebright and Neals were given. (Id., at 5) The Court of Appeals dismissed this argument and held that the trial court did the best it could with what it had. (Id., at 6)

While planning the partition, the trial court had considered giving the Mohuns some of the more valuable land. (Id.) This division would certainly be more favorable for the Mohuns, but this division would also conflict with the County General Plan’s policy of clustering agricultural land divisions. (Id.) Instead, the trial court opted to give the Mohuns more of the proceeds from the sale of parcel 36, which the Court of Appeals stated was fair and reasonable. (Id.) The Court of Appeals wrote:

The partition of the property here presented dilemmas that could not be resolved fully to everyone's satisfaction. The trial court faced a complicated set of constraints . . . [and] the court adopted the solution of giving the Mohuns less than their share of valuable land, but a proportionately larger share of the proceeds from the sale of parcel 36. While the Mohuns did not get what they wanted, the partition was fair by any objective standard based on the market value and the best utilization of the property.

Therefore, Muhon signifies that courts will often defer to regulations and policies even if that results in unsatisfied parties. Courts will try to divide the land to everyone’s satisfaction, but what is ultimately most important to them is that the land’s use follows the law and local policy.

Parties may often have a partition plan that is equitably distributed, but these plans may not always take into consideration regulations or policies. Muhon teaches that the court’s first priority will not be what a party wants from the partition order, but rather what legal constraints face the partition order.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help.

As seen in Muhon, partitions can be a complex legal process that even courts have difficulty navigating. There are so many laws and policies to take into consideration that any sort of partition planning can be overwhelming. Sometimes, it can be difficult to fight for one’s fair share.

Here at Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help navigate the complex web of regulations 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.

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