Partition: a Litigation Tool to Solve Co-Ownership Problems

Imagine having the good fortune to own a piece of Humboldt County real property, but being stuck with a co-owner (other than a spouse) so difficult that owning the property becomes more of a liability than an asset. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat common occurrence. For example, two people in a romantic relationship but remaining unmarried might purchase a home intending to reside there together, but only one member of the couple has a sufficiently strong credit score to qualify for a mortgage. Sometime later, the couple splits up, but the individual carrying the mortgage is either unable or unwilling to continue making those mortgage payments. Or, as another common example, siblings inherit property previously belonging to a parent or parents, but because of personality conflicts among the siblings, the property remains vacant, benefiting no one.

The good news is that in such scenarios there is a relatively straightforward procedure through the courts to bring such a matter to a resolution. California law provides that any co-tenant, that is, a co-owner holding title to real property, may bring an action in Superior Court for Partition. Although the default under the law is technically for partition to result in the real property actually being physically divided between the co-owners, in practice circumstances usually dictate that the court orders the property to be sold and the proceeds to be divided among the owners, after the sale proceeds satisfy any liens against the property. The court also has the power through this process to conduct an accounting between the parties to consider whether one owner is entitled to a greater share than merely her or his title ownership interest, for reasons such as having paid the mortgage or property taxes, or having made substantial improvements to the property.

If you have real property in California, particularly in Humboldt County, and are confronting similar circumstances to those described above, consider contacting Janssen Malloy LLP. We have several attorneys who have litigated partition cases and can advise you regarding the challenges and benefits of resolving your difficult co-ownership by bringing a partition case.