Articles Posted in real estate law

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Generally speaking, whenever California real property is transferred, the County Assessor may reassess the property to establish base value for property tax purposes. There are limits as to how much the value may increase every year due to changes in the market. However, when the property is sold, it may be reassessed at full market value. This makes a big difference if a property had the same owner for many years, and benefits from a low base valuation. Buyers want to avoid a big increase in taxes.

There is an exception that applies to a residence owned by any person over the age of 55 years, or any severely and permanently disabled person. The base-year value of that property may be transferred to any replacement dwelling of equal or lesser value that is located within the same county and is purchased or newly constructed by that person as his or her principal residence within two years of the sale by that person of the original property, provided that the base-year value of the original property may not be transferred to the replacement dwelling until the original property is sold. (R & T section 69.5)

In a recent decision, the county rejected the taxpayer’s claim of exemption. That taxpayer was required by the lender to form an LLC to obtain the construction loan for the new residence, and the county said that the LLC is not a person, so the exception does not apply. The county was overruled.

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When a landowner grants someone permission to use her land, the owner is granting a license. A license may be created by express permission or by acquiescence. The owner generally retains the right to revoke that license at any time. The landowner may nevertheless be estopped from revoking that license—and the license will accordingly become an irrevocable license for “so long a time as the nature of it calls for”—if the person using the land has “expended money or its equivalent in labor” improving the land in the execution of the license. Critically, however, the expenditure of money or labor can make a license irrevocable only if that expenditure is “ ‘substantial,’ ” “considerable” or “great.”

Sacramento-license-permission-to-use-property-attorneyIn Lilli Shoen v Juliet Zacharias, two neighbors live at the base of a hill, their backyards running up the steep hillside. Part way up there was a flat spot on either side of the property line. The defendant Zacarias thought the flat spot was entirely on her property, and made some improvements:

(1) brought in contractors to grade the patch to make it flatter,

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When parties are co-owners of property and cannot agree on what to do with it, one of them often files a lawsuit for Partition. If the property cannot be physically divided between the owners the court may order sale. Upon partition a cotenant that has paid a disproportionate share of the purchase price is entitled to reimbursement of the portion disproportionately paid. As joint tenants, the presumption is that the parties own the property in equal shares. (Civ. Code§ 683.) But “[O]nce a court in a partition action has determined that a true joint tenancy exists, it may not order reimbursement or contribution on account of differences in the amounts the parties have paid toward the initial acquisition of the property.” (Milian v. De Leon @ 1195.) Them money would be split equally. However, if one joint tenant has advanced funds on behalf of the other and there is an agreement between them for reimbursement in the event of the sale of the property, that agreement can be enforced by the court.

Sacramento-partition-action-attorneyWhile a joint tenancy deed is not conclusive as to the character of the property at issue, it creates a rebuttable presumption that it is held in joint tenancy. The presumption of the deed “cannot be overcome by testimony of the hidden intentions of one of the parties, but only by evidence tending to prove a common understanding or an agreement that the character of the property was to be other than joint tenancy.” (Donovan v. Donovan (1963) 223 Cal.App.2d 691, 698.) Likewise, the presumption cannot be rebutted merely by showing the source of the funds used to acquire the property. (Beck v. Beck (1 966) 242 Cal.App.2d 396, 408.)

The court may consider the fact the parties have contributed different amounts to the purchase price in determining whether a true joint tenancy was intended. If a tenancy in common rather than a joint tenancy is found, the court may either order reimbursement or determine the ownership interests in the property in proportion to the amounts contributed. This does not work for true joint tenancies, however, where by definition ownership of the property is equal.

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The requirements to the establishment of a prescriptive easement in California are well settled. The party claiming such an easement must show the use of the property which has been open, notorious, continuous and adverse for an uninterrupted period of five years. However, there is a statute in California that applies to the use of land by the public for recreational purposes. If the subject qualifies under the statute, prescriptive rights can never be established – this is to encourage public use for recreational purposes. In a recent decision out of Mendocino County, a party claimed a right to an easement to access some coastal sand dunes, something the public would appreciate. The court found that this claimed use was for the benefit of the claimant and his property, and not the public. A prescriptive easement had been established.

sacramento-easement-attorneyIn Ditzian v. Unger, the parties owned neighboring parcels in Mendocino County. The scenic sand dunes of MacKerricher State Park are behind the parcels, and Ditzian historically accessed the dunes via a path that runs along the parties’ property line, then crosses appellant’s property, and then crosses the parcel of another neighbor. The prior owners used the same access at least as early as 1998.

In July 2015 Ditzian started renting the property to vacation renters through Airbnb; Ditzian testified that in September or October 2015, while he and his wife were on their honeymoon, Unger built a fence that blocked the path providing access to the dunes from respondents’ parcel. Never before had there been any obstructions to using that path to the dunes, nor “no trespassing” signs and Ditzian had never been told he could not use the path. You can see what happened – once they started renting to vacationers, the neighbor got tired of the strangers. The Trial court determined that Ditzian had established a prescriptive easement.

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Generally, one who is unjustly enriched at the expense of another is required to make restitution. The law has created this remedy d to restore the aggrieved party to his or her former position by the return of the thing or its equivalent in money. However, if the benefits are conferred on another by unjustified interference in the other’s affairs, the interferer is not entitled to restitution. It must ordinarily appear that the benefits were conferred by mistake, fraud, coercion, or request; otherwise, though there is enrichment, it is not unjust. In a recent decision, a party who was aware of a benefit conferred on a property owner acquired the property in foreclosure but acted surprised when the plaintiff sought restitution.

Sacramento-unjust-enrichment-attorneyIn Professional Tax Appeal v. Kennedy-Wilson Holdings, Inc, the plaintiff (“Tax Appeal”) pursued property tax refunds on behalf of commercial property owners, on a contingency fee basis. If it is successful, it is entitled to a percentage of the property taxes saved. Plaintiff entered a contract with Victory Glen to reduce its taxes property on Victory Blvd in Los Angeles. They were successful, reducing taxes over $140,000, and were owed over $41,000. But Victory Glen went into default and the property was foreclosed.

Defendant obtained title to the property, paid the delinquent taxes, and benefited from the reduced property tax. Before they did that, they investigated the property, were aware of the past due taxes and the obtained records indicating that the tax valuations had been challenged by the property owner.

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An easement in California is a right to use someone’s property which right is something less than a full right of ownership. The right of use is restricted to that in the original grant of easement, though parties often consult Sacramento real estate attorneys regarding what that right really is. In the case of a grant of a “general” easement the courts may look to the parties’ original intent, plus the historic use of the easement. However, in a recent decision, the plaintiff discovered that the easement he had granted was not general; instead, the language was clear enough to interpret, and in addition the court recognized that it could allow for the normal future development of the property.

Sacramento-easement-lawyerIn James Zissler v. Patrick Saville, a property owner in Montecito granted an easement to a neighbor for access to the rear of neighbor’s property. The grantor claims that he intended the easement be used sparingly and infrequently, and not for construction access. He also intended that no “‘heavy vehicles’ ” would be allowed on the easement. By “heavy,” he meant “‘anything much bigger than a pickup truck.’ ” It was only used for the gardener’s access to maintain the property. Both parties sold their lots, and the plaintiff bought from the grantor. The defendant paid $4.7 million, and intended to develop the property, which required paving the easement and construction access. Plaintiff filed this action claiming that defendant had a General Easement, and as such its use was limited by the intent of the parties and its actual historic use.


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Most Settlement Agreements require parties to dismiss existing lawsuits with prejudice. Ending litigation is the goal of settlement. The agreements also include provisions to recover attorney fees in the event someone has to go to court to enforce the settlement. Lastly, they include provision for the court to retain jurisdiction to enforce the agreement (by a CCP § 664.6 motion), which allows making a motion in the original action to enforce it. Another approach to enforcement would be to file an entirely new action, and seek attorney fees as damages. I am unaware of the benefit of such approach over the CCP 664.6 motion. In a recent case the plaintiff filed a new action and sought attorney fees as damages. The court might have awarded such damages, but the plaintiff never proved that he had incurred them.

Sacramento-Settlement-AttorneyIn Copenbarger v. Morris Cerullo World Evangelism (“MCWE”), MCWE had a ground lease on property in Newport Beach. MCWE subleased the property and sold the improvements on the property. To finance the deal, the new tenant obtained a $3 million dollar loan from the Plaintiff, secured by a 1st deed of trust against the Sublease and Improvements. The tenant borrowed an additional $1 million from Plaza, secured by a second. The subtenant defaulted, and MCWE started an unlawful detainer. Plaintiff intervened, on the grounds that, if the Subtenant was evicted and the Sublease terminated, plaintiff would lose its security.

The parties entered a settlement agreement resolving the dispute. It included an attorney fee provision for any action to enforce the agreement. Importantly, it required MCWE to dismiss the unlawful detainer.

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Partition is the right of any co-owner to require a court-ordered split of real estate, or its sale and a split of the money. A right of first refusal is a contractual right that, in this context, gives the co-owner the right to buy out his co-tenant before the cotenant can sell to a third party. It has been argued that the right of first refusal implies a waiver of the right to partition. The courts have concluded that it does at first, but if the owner who is not selling is offered the right buy out their partner and declines, the other owner has done all that was required and may seek partition. That was the case in a decision involving a property in Carnelian Bay, on the shore of Lake Tahoe. A belligerent co-owner refused to buy out their partner, the third-party buyer backed out, and the seller filed for partition.

Partition-attorney-sacramentoIn LEG Investments v. Boxer, LEG was the selling co-tenant who was fed up with the other owner. The Plaintiff claimed that The Boxlers or their guests often failed to clean the Property and the Boxlers refused to pay for reasonable and necessary landscaping, maintenance, cleaning and repairs. In 2003, LEG offered to sell its interest in the Property or purchase the Boxlers’ interest for $750,000. The Boxlers declined both offers.

Next, C.R. Gibb, a real estate investor with many years of experience in the Lake Tahoe real estate market, offered to buy LEG’s interest in the Property for $1.4 million, subject to his approval of the Boxlers as co-owners. As required by paragraph 6.1 of the TIC agreement, LEG transmitted Gibb’s offer to the Boxlers and offered them a right of first refusal to purchase LEG’s interest on the same terms. The Boxlers declined. The critical language: “We will not be exercising our right of first refusal for your bona fide offer of $1,400,000.00.” Gibb figured out that these people were not good roommates, did not approve them, and the deal collapsed. LEG filed for partition.

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An easement owner cannot claim another party has trespassed on their easement, because trespass involves interference with the plaintiff’s exclusive possession. Easement holders do not have a right to exclusive possession. They may claim nuisance, but only if the interference is substantial and unreasonable. But they can enlarge their rights by claiming prescriptive rights if they can show that they used the easement in a way that exceeded the use authorized in the grant of easement. These were the conclusions drawn by the court in a recent decision out of Napa County.

Sacramento-Easement-rights-attorneyIn McBride v. Smith, McBride owned a landlocked parcel in a residential neighborhood in St. Helena, Google map here. She was the beneficiary of two recorded easements that run parallel to each other: the Secondary Access Easement encumbering the Smiths’ property; and the Driveway Easement located on property “owned by 1660 Spring Street,” which “remains in full force and provides access to the alley that connects both easements to Spring Street.”

The Smiths were not pleased. First, they constructed “wood dividers” along the “entire length” of the easement. Second, the Smiths erected a heavy chain and large pole at the end of the easement, with the chain extending the entire width of the easement. Third, the pole was bolted to the ground and could not be removed without special tools or a high amount of strength. Fourth, “[b]oth the pole and chain as they exist now obstruct Plaintiff’s access. Even if the chain was removed, the pole would still block Plaintiff’s access.”

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In my last post regarding dedication of land I discussed how land may be dedicated for public use in a process is described as implied by law if the public has openly and continuously used the property for five years. Implied by law is similar to the process for a prescriptive easement, but it is not the same. The requirements were established by the series of court decisions up until the legislature took action, enacting new law effective in 1972. The possibility of dedication by use prior to 1972 is still controlled by the common law, but for uses beginning in 1972, the statutes apply. If a party is not sure about the public’s rights to use private property relative to the timing pre and post 1972, based on five years of use prior to 1972, they should contact a Sacramento commercial real estate attorney.

Sacramento-land-dedication-attorney-2The decision in Gion discussed in Part 1 resulted in a lot of hubbub due to perceived changes in the law. Previously there was a presumption that public use was by way of a license granted by the owner. But Gion held that the court would not rely on such a presumption. In addition, there was no requirement the use be “hostile” and “adverse” in the sense of a prescriptive right – the public did not have to use the property under color of title or claim of right. Nor is it required that the owner be aware of the public use.

The legislature responded by enacting Civil Code section 1009 (set out in full below), which provides that no use of property by the “shall ever ripen to confer upon the public or any governmental body or unit a vested right to continue” to use the property unless the owner made an irrevocable order of dedication that had been accepted by the governing body. Hence, the idea of implied dedication for public use is dead for uses after 1972.