Vallejo Partition Lawyers

Vallejo is a city in Solano County and the second largest city in the North Bay region of the Bay Area. The city is well known for being the 142-year home of the first naval shipbuilding and repair facility on the west coast, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Founded in 1854, this maritime base defined Vallejo’s economy until the turn of the 21st century. Vallejo is home to the California Maritime Academy, Touro University California, McCune Rare Book and Art Collection, Solano County Fairgrounds, Mare Island Historic Park, Empress Theater, and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. When co-owners cannot agree on the future of their shared property, contacting a Vallejo Partition Lawyer is the next best thing. There are at least four situations in which speaking with a Vallejo Partition Lawyer should be considered:

  • Sibling-Sibling co-ownership of property;
  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend co-ownership of property;
  • Parent-Child co-ownership of property; and
  • Investor-Investor co-ownership of property;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition action is a judicially-supervised forced sale of real estate. In California, each co-owner has an “absolute” right to partition the property. “Ordinarily, if the party seeking partition is shown to be a tenant in common, and as such entitled to the possession of the land sought to be partitioned, the right to partition is absolute, and cannot be denied, ‘either because of any supposed difficulty, nor on the suggestion that the interest of the co-tenants will be promoted by refusing the application nor temporarily postponing the action.” (Priddel v. Shankie (1945) 69 Cal.App.2d 319, 325 (emphasis added).) Thus, any owner of real estate (whether 5%, 50%, or 95%) has the right to bring a partition action in California.

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. The best Vallejo Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Under the Partition of Real Property Act, the court instead appoints an appraiser to do the heavy lifting. The new statute states that the court “shall determine the fair market value of the property by ordering an appraisal.” (CCP § 874.316.) The court doesn’t have to be the one to order the appraisal, but this is only if all the co-owners agree to a different method of valuation.

If, however, an appraisal occurs, it shall be conducted by a disinterested third-party real estate appraiser licensed to determine the fair market value of properties. After the appraisal is conducted, parties may file objections to the value and can even offer additional evidence of value to the court.

After the valuation is complete, parties will be introduced to the key feature of the new statute: the buy-out option. If a co-owner requests a partition by sale, then the court will notify the other co-owners that they may buy all the interests of the cotenant that requested the partition. (CCP § 874.317.)

This is, essentially, a right of first refusal. The co-owners who don’t want the property sold now have the option to simply buy out the requesting party. Additionally, the buy-out price will be based on the property’s valuation, determined earlier in the litigation. And if one or more parties exercise the buy-out, then the court will reapportion ownership percentages based on the price paid. A top Vallejo Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Your 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 Vallejo 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 Vallejo Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Malone v. Taylor

The idea of self-representation can be appealing to many people. Even the simplest of lawsuits, however, often have legal procedural mazes to navigate. Not to mention, understanding and using legal authorities in arguments is difficult even for experienced lawyers.

Representing oneself can create a mountain of problems, and often leads to disaster. This is especially true in an area of law as complex as partitions law, where it can be difficult to properly interpret case law. Hiring a lawyer may seem daunting, but it is often the best move one can make in these situations.

The property at issue in Malone v. Taylor, Cal.App.Unpub., WL 4023725 (2019), was owned by four siblings (Sylvia, Gary, Frank, and Gregory) who each had a twenty-five percent ownership interest. (Id., at 1.) Gregory gave half of his interest to his wife, so they each owned twelve and a half percent interest. (Id.) Frank and Gary had lived in the home since 1995. (Id.) In 2004, Gregory and Glenda lived there together, along with their adult son. (Id.)

In July 2015, Sylvia sued Gregory and Glenda for partition. (Id., at 2.) Gary and Frank joined Sylvia as plaintiffs. (Id.) The plaintiffs sought a partition by sale, arguing that the property could not be physically divided. (Id.)

Gregory and Glenda filed an answer in August 2015, admitting some allegations, denying other allegations, and alleging their affirmative defenses. (Id., at 3.) In April 2016, their counsel withdrew, so Gregory and Glenda began representing themselves. (Id.)

In August 2016, the plaintiffs motioned to compel the defendants to sell the property. (Id.) There had been an offer of 199,000 dollars, but the defendants refused to accept the offer. (Id.) Gregory claimed that there was a higher offer, but he had not produced this supposed higher offer. (Id.)

The plaintiffs’ motion to compel was denied. (Id.) In October 2016, the parties received a purchase offer of 225,000 dollars. (Id., at 4.) The trial court filed an interlocutory judgment ordering the sale. (Id.)

After the sale, the plaintiffs asked the court to order the defendants to pay plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs incurred for bringing the partition action. (Id.) After hearing testimony and examining evidence, the trial court found that the attorney’s fees were incurred for the common benefit of all parties and so the defendants would have to pay their share of the fees. (Id., at 6.)

After the trial court issued a tentative decision ordering payment of attorney’s fees, they were concerned that they did not have subject matter jurisdiction on the issue of attorney’s fees. (Id.) The trial court reconvened to consider the matter, and after arguments from the parties, the trial court ruled that it did have subject matter jurisdiction over attorney’s fees. (Id.) The trial court then issued an order consistent with its tentative decision. (Id., at 7.) Gregory appealed the trial court’s interlocutory judgment for partition by sale and the trial court order for distributing the sales proceeds. (Id.) The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment on all counts. (Id., at 16.)

Malone is a cautionary tale of representing oneself in court. Not only are there procedural rules that must be followed, but there are also legal authorities that must be properly interpreted to use in one’s arguments. It can be difficult for non-lawyers to understand statutes and case law. All of these errors can pile on top of each other and lead to disaster.

The Court of Appeal first had to deal with the issue of Gregory representing himself. (Id., at 7.) Throughout his appellate briefs, Gregory presented facts with no citations, incorrect citations, and legal arguments without citations, all of which violated the California Rules of Court. (Id.) The Court of Appeal could have dismissed his appeal entirely and required him to file new briefs. (Id., at 8.) Instead, the Court of Appeal decided to disregard the facts and arguments that were not in compliance and move on with the appeal. (Id.)

For the challenge to the trial court’s interlocutory judgment, Gregory failed to file a timely notice of appeal. (Id.) Gregory tried to argue that the trial court did not have jurisdiction, but the Court of Appeal held that the trial court gained jurisdiction when the plaintiffs first sued for partition in the county. (Id., at 9.) The Court of Appeal dismissed Gregory’s challenge on this issue. (Id.)

For Gregory’s challenge to the trial court’s order for sales distribution, Gregory first argued that the trial court should have allowed his request for a statement of decision after the court’s tentative decision. (Id., at 10.) The Court of Appeal concluded that this argument was meritless because Gregory failed to submit his request within the required time frame. (Id.)

Additionally, Gregory failed to provide the Court of Appeal with the plaintiffs’ exhibits from the trial. (Id., at 11.) The Court of Appeal held that due to this omission, Gregory could not appeal any issues that relied on the plaintiffs’ exhibits. (Id.) The Court of Appeal also ruled that because the trial court’s findings were substantially based on the plaintiffs’ exhibits that Gregory failed to provide, Gregory could not establish that the trial court’s findings against him was contrary to the evidence. (Id., at 12.)

Gregory’s last-ditch effort was to argue that the trial court’s ruling on apportioning the plaintiffs’ attorney fees should be set aside as a matter of law. (Id.) Gregory made several arguments to try and convince the Court of Appeal, but each legal argument failed due to Gregory’s failed understanding the legal authorities of partitions law. (Id.)

First, Gregory tried arguing that partition was not necessary according to the will of the mother. (Id.) The will gave one-fourth interest of the property to each of the four siblings as cotenants after the mother’s death. (Id., at 13.) But after the estate was settled, the cotenants were no longer bound by the will’s provisions. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that the will’s provisions were irrelevant to the partition claims. (Id.)

Gregory also tried to argue that the trial court should not have used attorney fees distribution as it tried to resolve the parties’ dispute about their informal agreement about use and payment of the property. (Id.) Case law, however, stated that cotenants are entitled to partition. (Id.) The Court of Appeal dismissed this argument. (Id.)

Next, Gregory argued that the trial court did not comply with certain statutes when allowing for an equitable distribution of plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs. (Id.) When examining the plaintiffs’ complaint, it met all the statutory requirements needed in a partition action. (Id., at 14.) Though Gregory tried to argue that, according to the statute, the trial court court’s relief could not exceed the amount demanded in the complaint. (Id.) Gregory’s argument was a misinterpretation of the statute, as that would only be the case if Gregory did not file an answer. (Id.) Since Gregory did file an answer, this argument failed. (Id.)

Gregory then argued that the trial court erred when it failed to order an accounting and adjust the distribution of the proceeds before issuing its order. (Id.) The statute, however, does not require the trial court to make such adjustments without a request and notice to the parties. (Id.) Gregory gave no notice, nor did he make a request for an accounting claim. (Id.) This argument failed before the Court of Appeal. (Id.)

Finally, Gregory argued that the trial court erred in its apportionment of plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that, according to the appropriate statutes and case law, the trial court was within its discretion to make such apportionment of attorney fees and costs. (Id.) In addition, Gregory failed to submit evidence to the trial court to support his claim. (Id.)

Malone is illustrative of how dangerous self-representation can be. A carnival of blunders can slowly avalanche into disaster. Since Gregory was representing himself, he was not knowledgeable about the rules of the court or legal authorities relevant to his case. Though it seems he did legal research, he misinterpreted legal authorities at every turn. Additionally, Gregory committed several egregious procedural errors that were quite costly for his case.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Malone, self-representation is often a mistake. Statutes and case law often have legal interpretations that may not be immediately obvious. Courts have their own procedural rules that must be followed. Evidence and citations must be added to the record. It is borderline impossible for a non-lawyer to do it all by oneself.

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.

Learn more here.

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