Vacaville Partition Lawyers

The town of Vacaville was originally founded on December 13th 1851, when Manuel Vaca sold a 1 square mile chunk of land to William McDaniel to create the township know as Vacaville. As approximately 35% of the homes in Vacaville are rented, this suggests that many of the homes are jointly owned. Vacaville Partition Lawyers find partition actions to be the best remedy for fighting co-owners in 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 lawsuit requires real estate to be sold regardless of the requests of the other title owners. The purpose of a partition action is to permanently end all disputes and remove all obstacles to the free enjoyment of land by one person. (McGillivray v. Evans (1864) 27 Cal.92.) These types of actions can be brought for all types of real estate from houses to farms to office buildings to apartment buildings. Similarly, partition actions are available all types of ownership situations from joint tenants to tenants-in-common to partnership property to property jointly owned by former spouses.

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.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. The instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have generally involved some sort of written contract or adverse possession of property. As such, many parties try to stop a partition action through mediation, or a buy-out agreement. In most instances, the parties to a partition action can benefit from creative lawyering by those who are familiar with the different options for resolving real estate disputes. The best Vacaville 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 Vacaville 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 Vacaville Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Section 874.040 gives courts only two options in apportioning the costs and fees of partition: by ownership interest or by some other equitable apportionment. (see Finney v. Gomez (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 527, 545 (Finney).) 

Notably, appellate courts have found the statutory language of Section 874.040 to give courts broad and equitable discretion. (Lin v. Jeng (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1008.) 

This sentiment that the record must support the allocation of attorney’s fees in an amount greater than disclosed by title is echoed in Stutz, where the appellate court held the trial court erred in apportioning 100% of the attorney’s fees and costs of a partition to the respondent. The appellate court recognized that trial courts are free to apportion fees and costs in an equitable manner yet held that the record must support such an arrangement in “any manner other than according to the respective interests of the parties in the property.” (Stutz, 122 Cal.App.3d 1, 5.) 

For example, where a party refuses to simply resolve the issue where the other party was willing to sell, then a court has the authority to order a different amount of fees than disclosed by title. (Forrest v. Elam (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 164, 174.) In other words, the resistance to selling the property may be a factor that a court considers in awarding attorneys’ fees in a partition action. A knowledgeable Vacaville Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

A Partition Case Study: Dilonell v. Bua

Bringing forth a lawsuit comes with many considerations. For one thing, a lawsuit has to jump through the proper hoops in order to be considered before a court in the first place. Parties must always be careful that their lawsuits are up to the required standards so that they can argue their cases in court.

Sometimes, circumstances outside of a party’s control can interfere with bringing a lawsuit. However, it is the party’s responsibility to ensure that the lawsuit meets the court’s requirements, no matter the circumstances. This includes but is not limited to properly establishing evidence from the record, meeting the statute of limitations, and having legitimate legal arguments supported by legal authorities. This is especially important upon appeal, as appeal courts are often hesitant to overturn a trial court’s judgment unless there is a strong case to do so.

Dilonell v. Bua, Cal.App.Unpub. (2020) WL 5628058, is an example of a case that failed to meet the court’s standards. Though it is easy to sympathize with the appellant in this case, sympathy does not translate into a properly argued lawsuit before the court. Despite the events the appellant went through, she failed to meet the required legal standards to argue her case on appeal, which led to dire consequences.

Dilonell met Bua, and the two became romantically involved in 2006, eventually moving in together into Dilonell’s apartment. (Id., at 1.) Dilonell and Bua later decided to move into a different apartment together, with Bua giving Dilonell a “move-in” ring that Dilonell described as an “engagement ring.” (Id.) Bua refused to be on the lease for the new apartment. (Id.)

Bua also handled the couple’s finances, claiming to have more experience. (Id.) Though the two shared expenses, Dilonell paid more than half of the expenses. (Id.) Dilonell later left her job to pursue a nursing degree, where she became dependent on Bua who promised to provide for her. (Id.) Around 2009, Dilonell added Bua to her credit card. (Id.)

In early 2010, the two took a “break,” where Bua moved in with a friend while leaving his belongings at Dilonell’s apartment. (Id., at 2.) Later in 2010, the two got back together and decided to look for a house. (Id.) In May 2011, they found a home to buy in Culver City, and Bua told Dilonell that he would take care of everything related to purchasing the house. (Id.)

Bua was a veteran, so he obtained a VA loan to buy the property. (Id.) Dilonell provided $5,200 towards the purchase, which she thought was for a down payment, but Bua later told her would go to closing costs. (Id.) Bua also stopped Dilonell from signing closing papers, and Dilonell later learned that she would not be listed on the title. (Id.) Bua told Dilonell that he would add her to the title later. (Id.)

Bua and Dilonell moved into the house. (Id.) Dilonell paid $31,000 for remodeling, which she expected Bua to reimburse half of for her. (Id.) Dilonell paid house-related bills and was on Bua’s homeowners insurance policy, though she was still not on the titled. (Id.) When asked, Bua told Dilonell that she would be added to the title eventually. (Id.)

In September 2012, Bua wanted Dilonell to move out. (Id.) Dilonell requested for Bua to reimburse her for the house-related costs, which Bua refused. (Id.)

In December 2012, Dilonell moved into a home that contained mold, which caused her to have health problems for years. (Id.)

In early 2015, Dilonell returned her keys to the house and was removed from the homeowner’s insurance. (Id.) In March 2015, Bua paid her $25,000 and told her to get a lawyer. (Id.)

In April 2017, Dilonell sued Bua, seeking a one-half interest in the Culver City property. (Id.) She also sought palimony and reimbursements for improvements made to the property. (Id.)

According to Bua, he did not consider the “move-in” ring to be an engagement ring. (Id., at 3.) Additionally, Bua said he never proposed to Dilonell, they were never engaged, and he never promised to support her. (Id.)

Bua also claimed that he had made verbal offers to Dilonell to purchase a house together, but she refused to pay for the down payment. (Id.) Bua denied that there was any oral or written agreement between him and Dilonell to purchase a house. (Id.)

After finding the Culver City property, Bua bought the home with the VA loan in 2011. (Id.) he was the only person on the property’s title and bound by the loan. (Id.) Bua said that Dilonell’s $5,200 payment was a loan to close the sale. (Id.)

Bua and Dilonell moved into the house in September 2011, though they were no longer romantically involved. (Id.) Dilonell lived in the house rent-free and paid for improvements to the property. (Id.) Bua contended that the two agreed at the time that Dilonell’s payments did not give her any ownership interest and Bua would pay her back. (Id.)

At trial, Bua motioned for nonsuit, which is essentially a motion saying that the other side does not have a sufficient case to bring. (Id.) The trial court granted Bua’s nonsuit motion, concluding that all of Dilonell’s arguments and claims were meritless. (Id., at 5.) Dilonell appealed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

The issue facing the Court of Appeal in Dilonell was Bua’s nonsuit motion, which the trial court had granted. In order to uphold the trial court’s grant of Bua’s nonsuit motion, the Court of Appeal had to analyze each of Dilonell’s arguments and find them all to be meritless. If even one had been properly argued and supported, Dilonell might have gotten another chance.

First, Dilonell’s claims were brought after the statute of limitations for her case had passed. (Id., at 6.) Dilonell argued that she was delayed in bringing forth Bua’s alleged fraud because she was unaware that he would not place her on the title until he paid her the $25,000 in April 2015, which should restart the statute of limitations. (Id.)

The Court wrote that claims accrue “upon the occurrence of the last element essential to the cause of action.” (Id.) The Court concluded that Dilonell’s claims accrued in December 2012, when Bua excluded her name from the title, refused to reimburse her, and failed to pay her palimony. (Id.) Therefore, Bua giving her money in 2015 would not restart the clock on statute of limitations. (Id.) Since Dilonell filed suit in 2017, and the longest applicable statute of limitations is three years, the Court held that her claims were barred. (Id.)

Dilonell argued that adverse health effects from the mold in the home where she moved to after being kicked out of the Culver City property prevented her from bringing her claims on time. (Id.) However, the standard for failing to file a suit on time due to mental impairments is “insanity sufficient to establish complete inability to function.” (Id., at 8.) The Court held that Dilonell did not meet this incredibly high standard. (Id.)

Previously, the trial court held that the statute of frauds barred Dilonell’s claims. (Id., at 5.) The statute of frauds is a legal doctrine stating that certain kinds of contracts must be written and signed by the party that the contract would be enforced against. At trial, Bua’s counsel argued that a contract for real estate must be in writing, and there was no written agreement between Bua and Dilonell, so Dilonell’s claims were barred. (Id.)

On appeal, Dilonell argued that she and Bua formed a joint venture to buy the Culver City property, which would prevent the statute of frauds from barring her claim. (Id., at 8.) However, a joint venture requires agreement on ownership interest and other such terms. (Id.) Dilonell presented no evidence that Bua agreed to repay her as part of a joint venture of owning the house. (Id.) The Court of Appeal concluded that there was insufficient evidence to find a joint venture between Dilonell and Bua. (Id.)

Dilonell is a cautionary tale of waiting too long to bring forth a lawsuit. It is easy to be sympathetic towards someone in Dilonell’s position, who heavily relied on Bua for financial decisions. However, if you want justice, you have to play by the justice system’s rules. It is imperative that a party bringing a lawsuit brings it on time and supported by proper evidence. Otherwise, a court can decline to even consider your case.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Dilonell, the law can be full of barriers to entry when bringing forth a lawsuit. Courts set such high barriers because they do not want to waste time on meritless claims with little legal support. It is important for parties to the facts of their case inside and out to present the best legal arguments possible. It is also vital to know when bringing a case may be too late.

Here at the 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.

Learn more here.

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