Sunnyvale Partition Lawyers

Sunnyvale is a city in the Santa Clara Valley, lies along the historic El Camino Real and Highway 101, and is known for being the birthplace of the video game industry. Due to the booming tech industry, Sunnyvale has an expensive housing market, so many residents venture into real estate acquisition with others. Unfortunately, a Sunnyvale Partition Lawyer knows that jointly owned property leads to disputes among co-owners due to unforeseeable events. Fortunately, California law offers joint owners of real estate an escape with the legal remedy of partition. There are at least four different scenarios that commonly lead to a partition action:

  • Co-owned land a significant other wants to sell;
  • Co-owned land a sibling wants to sell;
  • Co-owned land a parent wants to sell; and
  • Co-owned land an investor wants to sell;
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 ofreal 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 Sunnyvale Partition Lawyers will be able to share information on this process with you.

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. A top Sunnyvale Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Following the sale of the property, the referee will divide the proceeds of the sale among the parties in according to amounts expended for the "common benefit."

When the sale is confirmed by the court, the court may enter an order about the proceeds of sale. Under the law, the sale proceeds must be applied in a defined order. Specifically, Code of Civil Procedure section 873.820 states that the sale proceeds go towards (a) payment of expenses of the sale, (b) payment of the other costs of partition, (c) payment of any liens on the property in priority, (d) and distribution of the remainder to the parties in proportion to their shares as determined by the court.

Generally, the last part of the priority list includes what is commonly known as an "accounting" or a determination of whether one party has contributed more than their fair share to the property in the form of taxes, improvements, or other benefits for the property. For example, if one party is a 50% owner of the property, but has paid all of the property taxes for the property, then that property owner will have a claim for the remaining 50% above their interest in the property. An experienced partition lawyer will be able to help a co-owner determine their claims to the proceeds and make these arguments to the court in an effective way. An experienced Sunnyvale Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

An action for partition may include an accounting so that the respective rights of the parties can be adjusted and settled. (Lazzarevich v. Lazzarevich, (1952) 39 Cal. 2d 48, 50–51.) A cotenant who has advanced fund to pay common expenses is entitled to reimbursement from the sale proceeds before the balance is divided and distributed to the cotenants. (Southern Adjustment Bureau, Inc. v. Nelson (1964) 230 Cal. App. 2d 539, 541.) A cotenant out of possession can require the cotenant in possession to account for rents and profits or other compensatory adjustment in the division of sale proceeds. (CCP § 872.430.)

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

A Partition Case Study: Colmet-Daage v. Cremoux, Cal.App.Unpub. (2021)

Parties may believe that they have two chances to plead their case: one at trial, and one on appeal. However, this isn’t exactly the case. Appellate courts are often very hesitant to overturn a trial court’s judgment. In addition, new evidence is not permitted on appeal. Parties should really have the mindset that they only get one shot at pleading their case, because

Anything that appears on the record at trial is fair game, but that’s assuming the party presented the evidence in the first place. That is why parties must ensure their evidence at trial is substantial in assisting their legal arguments. If a trial court is unconvinced by your evidence, odds are that the appellate court will be unconvinced as well.

The property at issue in Colmet-Daage v. Cremoux, Cal.App.Unpub. (2021) WL 1248196, was originally purchased by Colmet-Daage and his wife Cremoux in 2002. (Id., at 1.) The two separated around 2009, and in 2010 Cremoux granted Colmet-Daage a joint tenancy interest in the property. (Id.) In 2013, the two ended their relationship and Cremoux severed their joint tenancy, which created a tenancy in common ownership. (Id.)

In January 2015, Colmet-Daage sued Cremoux for partition by sale. (Id.) He argued that he had a right to possession of the property, while Cremoux was in possession and not sharing the rent she was collecting with him. (Id., at 2.) He wanted reimbursement for not receiving the rent money. (Id.) Colmet-Daage also contended that Cremoux had ousted him from the property, and he sought damages for the ouster. (Id.)

In response, Cremoux filed a cross-complaint against Colmet-Daage. (Id.) She argued that Colmet-Daage unduly influenced her to transfer a joint tenancy interest of the property to him without consideration. (Id.) Cremoux’s claim challenged the validity of the 2010 joint tenancy agreement. (Id.)

In the first part of the trial, which began in May 2016, the trial court found no evidence for Cremoux’s claims of undue influence. (Id.) The trial court also ordered partition of the property. (Id.)

In the second part of the trial, which begain in August 2016, the trial court concluded that the 2010 joint tenancy agreement was valid and established each owner with having a one-half interest in the property. (Id., at 3.) The trial court also held that Cremoux’s severance of the joint tenancy in 2013 created a tenancy in common, but the ownership was still equally distributed between the two. (Id.)

Additionally, the trial court found that Cremoux had ousted Colmet-Daage, so Colmet-Daage was entitled to half of the fair rental value. (Id.) The trial court also found that Cremoux was entitled to one-half of the mortgage and insurance expenses after 2013, and since that was equal to half of the fair rental value, this meant that none of the parties owed each other anything. (Id.)

After the trial court’s decision, the process to sell the property began. (Id.) While this was happening, Cremoux filed a motion, looking to receive compensation for contributions she made to the property after the trial proceedings in August 2016. (Id.) Cremoux sought $200,000 in credit from the sales proceeds, claiming that this amount reflected the increase in value of the property from the repairs and improvements she made. (Id.) The trial court denied Cremoux’s motion, finding that Cremoux did not establish that her expenditures enhanced the property’s value. (Id.)

The trial court’s judgment, entered in April 2017, provided that the parties were tenants in common who each held a fifty percent ownership interest in the property, and the trial court ordered partition by sale. (Id.) Cremoux appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Colmet-Daage is a cautionary tale on improperly supporting one's legal arguments. The appealing party must always consider the trial court’s reasoning, because appellate courts are usually wary of overruling a trial court. Without proper citations and support, a parties could jeopardize their cases by not only breaking court rules, but also failing to address the trial court’s basic contentions.

Cremoux first argued that she should have at least a ninety-six percent interest in the property rather than a fifty percent interest because her contributions to the property were significantly greater than Colmet-Daage's contributions. (Id., at 5.) Cremoux, however, cited no evidence from the record to support her claim. (Id.) The trial court on the other hand, cited plenty of evidence in its decision to support its claim. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err in granting Cremoux fifty percent interest. (Id.)

Alternatively, Cremoux argued that she should receive compensation adjustments for her investments and expenditures in the property made before 2010. (Id., at 8.) Cremoux paid a down payment in 2002, and from then on until 2010 the property appreciated in value by 235,000 dollars. (Id.) Cremoux claimed this amount should have been given to her before dividing the sales proceeds. (Id.)

The trial court had denied Cremoux this compensation adjustment because it found that there was still a joint tenancy. (Id., at 9.) The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court and concluded that Cremoux was not owed this compensation adjustment. (Id.)

Next, Cremoux argued that she should be reimbursed for money she spent on the property from 2013 to 2017. (Id., at 10.) Again though, Cremoux cited no evidence that her expenditures during this period increased the value of the property. (Id., at 11.) The evidence she submitted to the trial court appeared to be for ordinary maintenance and repair while she was living at the property without Colmet-Daage there. (Id.) The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that Cremoux failed to present any evidence of her claim and rejected any reimbursement. (Id., at 12.)

Cremoux then argued that she should be reimbursed for posttrial expenditures she spent on the property from 2016-2017. (Id., at 13.) Cremoux claimed that money she spent on the property enhanced its value by at least 200,000 dollars. (Id.) Cremoux’s evidence of this, however, was flimsy. (Id.) Cremoux relied on the word of her real estate agent who stated that the improvements added value to the property. (Id.) Cremoux’s only other piece of evidence was that there was a 2017 offer to buy the property at 1,528,888 dollars while the property sold for 1,725,000 dollars, which was a 200,000-dollar difference Cremoux claimed was due entirely to her expenditures. (Id.) The Court of Appeal concluded that this evidence was insufficient and held that Cremoux would not be reimbursed. (Id., at 14.)

Finally, Cremoux contended that Colmet-Daage was not entitled to half of the fair rental value from 2013 to 2016. (Id., at 15.) Cremoux argued that the ouster happened in 2014. (Id.) Cremoux also argued that the property was uninhabitable in 2016 because of issues with the sewer line, so the fair rental value during that time was zero. (Id.)

The trial court had found the ouster to have happened in 2013 because at that time, Cremoux sought a restraining order against Colmet-Daage. (Id., at 16.) In addition, Cremoux cited no evidence backing her claim that the property was uninhabitable in 2016 because of the sewer line. (Id.) The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s conclusion that the ouster happened in 2013 which entitled Colmet-Daage to half of the fair rental value from 2013 to 2016. (Id.)

Colmet-Daage illustrates just how important sufficient evidence is at trial. Colmet-Daage also shows the importance of understanding the trial court’s reasoning when appealing a case. If a trial court finds an argument unconvincing or insufficient, that is usually your cue to find a different approach or argument.

Simply reusing arguments from trial on appeal and hoping the appellate court will rule differently than the trial court is nothing more than wishful thinking. However, if your evidence is insufficient at trial, it will likely be insufficient on appeal. This is why parties must be prepared in the first round, so that they are not caught off-guard for the second round if it ever comes.

Learn more here.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Colmet-Daage, partition lawsuits can be a long and laborious process. Especially if a case goes up on appeal, it is vital that parties have all the necessary evidence to make their arguments. Look towards the trial court’s conclusions for indications on which areas you need new arguments to push for your case, but also make sure that your evidence is sufficient and convincing.

Here at Underwood Law Firm, 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.

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