Cooper & Elliott Blog

Land Partition: A Civil Way to Resolve a Property Dispute

Posted on Sat, Dec 29, 2018 @ 3:58 PM

What happens when two people jointly and equally own investment property and one would like to sell? If they can’t resolve the issue amicably themselves, one option is a land partition action.

For the parties involved, this issue can be emotionally taxing and may require the participation of partition attorneys with experience handling land disputes. When the land dispute involves brothers and inherited property, as we’ll discuss below, the financial and emotional stakes are no less demanding.

A land dispute dividing two brothers

Our client Malcolm* and his brother David* inherited five investment properties from their father when he passed away. David managed the properties for several years; collected rents, allegedly handled maintenance responsibilities, paid property taxes and utility fees, and distributed proceeds.

The properties were located in Columbus, Ohio, and Malcolm, who resided in Florida, felt strained by the tenancy in common ownership. From his perspective, the properties generated little revenue and caused unnecessary stress and financial burden to him and his brother. As time went on, he learned that the properties were falling into disrepair, taxes weren’t paid, and proceeds were failing to reach him.

According to David, the apartments were losing money. Malcolm was worried about his liability as a co-owner and wanted to sell the properties—but David declined. Because the brothers equally owned the properties and couldn’t agree on how to divide them equitably, Malcolm felt trapped. He came to us for help and we filed a lawsuit to compel a land partition.

What is a land partition?

A land partition is the formal legal proceeding where the joint owner of real estate asks the court to split the property. The plaintiff in the case is the joint owner asking for a partition; the defendant is the other joint owner—in this case, David.

If the court rules in favor of the partition, each member of the parties has an opportunity to purchase the property for the appraised value. If neither respective party member elects to do so, the property is sold at auction.

Because a real-estate auction rarely (if ever) brings the owners the full value of the properties, we followed a different legal strategy. We filed the partition action, moved for summary judgment, and won sanctions against the defendant for his failure to comply with his discovery obligations. We settled with David to sell the properties independently, after which Malcolm would receive an extra payment in addition to half the profits from the sale.

Partition attorneys: essential to resolution

Civil litigation attorneys can play an essential role in resolving a land-dispute case.  The partition process provided by Ohio law allowed us to reach a settlement that was in our client’s best interest without having to settle for a court-directed partition. Malcolm no longer had the burden of being an absentee owner of blighted properties with tax liabilities that brought him sleepless nights rather than income.

The settlement and the process that led to it encouraged the brothers to work together for the first time in years and to serve their interests better than the common ownership of their mismanaged—and steadily depreciating—properties.

If you find yourself in a land dispute that calls for a land partition or other civil litigation, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Connect with us—we’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

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