Partition Actions in California

Property ownership in California can be quite a lucrative investment. However, when a property has more than one owner, it is not unusual for conflict between parties or for their interests to diverge. A partition action may be the only remedy when that is the case.

What Is a Partition Action?

A partition action is a legal process in which a joint owner of real property forces the division of the property to sell it. It is based on the legal principle that someone who owns property has an absolute right to sell it. For this reason, once a partition action is begun, the other parties can’t stop the petitioner from dividing the property (unless they waived their rights in writing); they can only fight over the details of how it will be done.

They are common when multiple parties inherit a single piece of property or when multiple parties invest in real estate but cannot agree over its management.

Types of Partition Actions

There are 3 basic types of partition actions in California.

1. Partition by Sale

This is by far the most common type of partition in which the court will force the sale of the property and distribute the proceeds accordingly among co-owners who are tenants in common. 

Imagine three siblings inherit a house from their parents; most people are not interested in having a 1/3 interest in a house where they don’t live, and even fewer people are interested in buying such an interest. The most reasonable solution is typically to just sell the house.

2. Partition by Appraisal

Partition by appraisal is an alternative to partition by sale. In our inherited-house example above, imagine one of the siblings wishes to keep the house. One or both of the other siblings can seek a partition by appraisal in which the one who wants to keep the house buys out the interests of the others. This can only be done with the consent of all parties.

3. Partition in Kind

Partition in kind means the party is physically divided among the co-owners. In theory, this is the default form of partition under the law, but it often doesn’t apply. After all, you can’t physically divide a single-family house between three people. It is more appropriate when large pieces of land, such as farmland, can reasonably be divided into parcels. This tends to be a lengthy and complicated process.

Avoiding a Partition Action

Partitions can be long and expensive, so the best remedy is to prevent them from happening in the first place. 

When multiple parties choose to purchase real property together, they often assume they will always agree on important issues. That is rarely the case in practice and they should do their best to anticipate future disputes. For example, is each party free to sell their interest to whomever they wish, or must the other co-owners approve the sale? Or, more basically, what is the exact nature of each person’s interest in the property?

Regarding inherited property, the co-owners are often thrown into the situation with no advance notice. Creating a clear estate plan that guides how property should be divided can be very helpful.

Talk to an Attorney About Partitioning 

Whether you are considering filing a partition action or have been served with notice of a partition by another co-owner, you should meet with an attorney before proceeding. A clear understanding of property law is necessary to ensure the partition is done properly and your interests are fully protected.

Our legal team has plenty of experience in this area and can help you resolve your dispute out of court or represent you in the partition action itself. Contact our office to discuss your situation and create a plan for moving forward.

Written By

Hoffman & Forde, Attorneys at Law