Vista Partition Lawyer

The City of Vista is located in San Diego County and is home to over 101,000 residents. The city was founded on October 9, 1882, and later incorporated on January 23, 1963. Following the Second World War, Vista experienced many housing and business development booms which exponentially increased the population of Vista. According to Redfin, in July 2023, Vista home prices were up 11.8% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $850K. On average, homes in Vista sell after 18 days on the market compared to 14 days last year. There were 68 homes sold in July this year, up from 63 last year. As Vista's housing market is somewhat competitive, residents of Vista who own homes may find themselves wanting to get the most value out of their property. Jointly owned property may often lead to disputes between co-owners. Menifee residents who own real estate may face disputes with co-owners. Frequently, there are at least four common types of partitions actions for which a Vista Partition Attorney can provide sound counsel:

  • Investor-Investor shared ownership of property;
  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend share ownership of property;
  • Brother-Sister shared ownership of property; and
  • Parent-child shared 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 Vista 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 Vista Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Code of Civil Procedure, section 874.010 states that “[t]he costs of partition include: (a) [r]easonable attorney’s fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit.” 

Interestingly, the costs of partition can also include reasonable expenses necessarily incurred by a party for the common benefit in prosecuting or defending other actions or proceedings for the protection, confirmation, or perfection of title, setting the boundaries, or making a survey of the property. (CCP § 874.020.) 

That attorney’s fees are considered “costs” associated with a partition action is important because Section 874.040 goes on to state the “court shall apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interests or make such other apportionment as may be equitable.” A knowledgeable Vista Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

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.) An experienced Vista Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Morales v. Novoa (2017)

During a partition action, the property interests of all the parties in the suit may be put into issue regardless of the record title. (CCP § 872.610). The following paragraphs discuss how the Court of Appeal determines whether a trial court abused its discretion when it declared that a party had no interest in the real or personal property in the partition action despite their names being on the title in Morales v. Novoa (2017) 2017 WL 2991248.

In Morales, Frank Y. Morales appealed an adverse judgment in his suit for partition by sale of real property owned in joint tenancy with Eva Novoa. Morales and Novoa had lived together in a nonmarital relationship for over 30 years. In 1994, they bought a house located in Perris, California. They each took title as joint tenants and used a gift from Novoa’s parents to place a down payment.

At trial Morales testified that the gift was to both of them, and they did not keep account of how much each contributed to mortgage payments. He also testified that he purchased a 1966 Chevrolet with a loan from Novoa’s parents, which he had repaid. The car was solely in his name.

Novoa, who was self-represented, testified that Morales was physically and emotionally abusive to her throughout the relationship and was extremely controlling and demanding. She claimed that Morales only worked occasionally while she worked long hours to support the family, yet Morales controlled the finances. The gift from her parents was only for her alone and that the understanding was that it would be for her and her children, to give her security because of the abusive nature of Morales. Novoa also claimed that the gift from her parents for the 1966 Chevrolet was also hers alone and she feared challenging Morales on anything because he had repeatedly threatened her.

The trial court concluded that Morales had failed to present any evidence sufficient enough to establish that he had any recognized interest in either the real property or in the personal property he was attempting to partition by sale. Morales appealed the judgment solely with respect to the real property and the 1966 Chevrolet. He contended that the trial court had relied on principles applicable to family law or to the dissolution of partnerships rather than partition of joint tenancy and the return of wrongfully withheld property.

The Court of Appeal for the Fourth District first began by noting that Morales supported his contention with incorrect legal principles by quoting a portion of the trial court’s comments at the close of the evidence. While the single paragraph that Morales quoted seemed to support his contention, the full text showed quite the opposite. The comments did not show, at least to the Court of Appeal, that the court contemplated applying family law or partnership principles. The Court further stated that even it did intend to, the Court could not rely on the trial court’s comments to conclude that the judgment was in fact based on the application of those principles.

The factual findings and conclusions of law of the trial court can only be determined from either a statement of decision or express statements contained in judgements (Shaw v. County of Santa Cruz (2008) 170 Cal.App.4th 229, 268.) Therefore, the Court could not rely on a tentative decision or on the court’s oral statements except to help interpret findings or conclusions. The reason for that is that a trial court retains the inherent authority to change its judgment, its findings of fact, or its conclusions at any time before entry of judgment. (Id.)

The judgment in this case only stated that Morales failed to present evidence sufficient to establish that he had any legal interest in the real property. This left no indication in the record that the court had relied on family law principles to determine the ownership of the property, and since the court did not divide the property, there was no basis for such contention.

Morales also failed to address the fact that there was an absence of a statement of decision. In such situations, the Court of Appeal had to apply the doctrine of implied findings which required that in the absence of a statement of decision, an appellate court will presume that the trial court made all factual findings necessary to support the judgment for which substantial evidence exists in the record. (Shaw v. County of Santa Cruz, supra, 170 Cal.App.4th at pp. 267–268.)

Here, as to the real property, the Court of Appeal inferred that the trial court found that despite the title being as joint tenants, Novoa never agreed to create a joint tenancy. Additionally, in partition actions, all parties’ interests in the property may be put into issue regardless of the record title. (CCP § 872.610). Novoa did put Morales’ interest in the property in issue by her answer to the complaints, which stated that she purchased the home with inheritance from her parents and that Morales did not purchase the property.

Novoa’s testimony alone was enough as the testimony of a single witness whom the trier of fact finds credible is substantial evidence, unless facts testified to are physically impossible or inherently improbable. (People v. Young (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1149, 1181.) The Court of Appeal found that the trial court could have rationally found Novoa’s testimony credible and found Morales’ testimony not credible as to the true ownership of the property.

As to the 1966 Chevrolet, the Court of Appeal said that a similar analysis applied. Morales relied on Evidence Code section 662, which provides that the owner of the legal title to property is presumed to be the owner of the beneficial title, to argue that the trial court erred in their judgment. The Court of Appeal rebutted this argument however noting that this presumption only applies when there is no dispute as to where legal title resides but there is a question as to where all or part of the beneficial title should rest. Novoa’s testimony that the car was purchased with funds given to her alone by her parent was enough to support the trial court’s finding that the plaintiff failed to establish that he had a legal interest in the vehicle. As such, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment and awarded Novoa costs on appeal.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

A court’s determination of ownership interests in a property depends on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Factors such as agreements and who pays for certain expenses for the property can ultimately affect the outcome of a partition case. If you are considering partition as an option, or find yourself defending one, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consultation.

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