A partition action is a court-ordered action that forces the division of a joint tenancy property into equal tenant shares. Should a property partition create unequal shares, or if a property is impossible to divide, parties can agree to sell the property and split the profits equally.
Because co tenants have the right to sell their share of a property, the other co-tenant/s may be forced to be partners with a stranger. If tenants have disputes about the division of property, one or more tenant may file a partition action. This action would result in a formal grievance presented to a court, which will decide whether one party has the right to force a sale. If the court decides selling the property is a fair action to satisfy the filing party, the proceeds of the sale will be apportioned based on the shares of the parties in question. In the event one party receives a lien, the lien can only be placed only on their share of title and not the entirety of the property. If, however, the property is being sold, all liens must be removed.
Case Law Relating to Partition Action
Case Review: Riddle v. Harmon (1980)
The case, Riddle v. Harmon (1980) 102 Cal.3d 524., involved a wife who was denied the right to terminate joint tenancy with her husband.
Prior to the death of the property owner (Mrs. Riddle) , she was made aware that because the property she owned was held in joint tenancy with her husband (Mr. Riddle). Consequently, the property would automatically transfer to Mr. Little upon her death. On the advice of her attorney, Mrs. Riddle used a grant deed to transfer the property to herself. This terminated the joint tenancy and made Mrs. Riddle a tenant in common. This subsequently prevented the property from being transferred to Mr. Riddle. Shortly after, Mrs. Riddle died. Mr. Riddle then sued the executor of Mrs. Riddle’s estate (Harmon), to quiet title to Mrs. Riddle’s interest in the property.
The Superior Court cited that there was no historical precedent for selling a property to oneself. It argued that in order to break a joint tenancy, a joint tenant had to transfer a property to a “straw man”, then have the interest transferred back. Therefore, it ruled in favor of Mr. Riddle. Harmon appealed. The Court of Appeals argued that the “straw man” law used by the lower court was outdated. It argued that a joint tenant can reassign property interest at his or her discretion without the use of a “straw man”. It ruled in favor of Harmon.
Case Review: Formose Corp. v. Rogers (1952)
The case, Formosa Corp. v. Rogers (1952) 108 Cal.2d 397., involved a partition action.
Two tenants in common held a 19/81 interest in a motion picture movie studio: Formosa Corp. (19) and Mary Pickford Rogers, et. al. (81). Formosa Corp. spent a significant amount of money constructing buildings on studio land and wished to collect interest and could not due to financial factors. It filed a partition action against Rogers in order to force a sale to collect interest on its investment.
The Superior Court ruled that the burden of proof falls on the party seeking partition to show that a sale is necessary. The court held that by dividing the land according to the percentage of ownership, the values of the parcels would be substantially reduced. Therefore, the court ruled in favor of Rogers.