Co-owners of real estate do not always have the same goals, and when they cannot agree, they may need the court’s help. Such is the case in a Partition action; in its original form, it literally meant dividing the land up into parts, and assigning one part to each individual co-owner. Partitioning the land is still the preferred method under California law, but in most cases real estate attorneys argue that it is impractical, would not result in a fair split, and the property should be sold and the money split. When the property is primarily a building or house, it is usually sold. Either owner is allowed to buy the property, essentially making a credit bid of their own equity in the property, plus additional cash which buys out the other owners. There is a third way to partition- by appraisal, but in an odd recent decision the trial court incorrectly called for appraisal. The court of appeals said this was wrong, and explained the options in an action for Partition.
In Gayle Cummings v. Jennifer Dessel, the parties agreed to buy a property together east of Arcata, CA. Cummings put $80,000 down, they obtained seller financing, and the others were to make monthly payments and rehab the dilapidated residence. The defendants hit hard times and stopped paying the mortgage and working on the property. Plaintiff filed this action. The trial court ordered partition of the property by appraisal – each owner could bid to buy the other owner’s interest, with the minimum bid set by appraisal.
The court of appeals focused on the statutory language, as partition is governed by the California Code of Civil Procedure. Once the judge determines that a partition is called for, it “shall make an interlocutory judgment that determines the interests of the parties in the property and orders the partition of the property and, unless it is to be later determined, the manner of partition.” (§ 872.720, subd. (a))