When co-owners of real property in Pennsylvania cannot agree on the management or sale of the property, Pennsylvania law gives any owner the right to request a “partition” of the property.
What is a Partition?
A Partition is a type of lawsuit where a judge, or a court appointed master will hear evidence and determine whether the property is to be divided or sold. The procedure for partition actions are found at Pa.R.C.P. 1551 et seq. To initiate a partition action in Pennsylvania, a co-owner must file a partition complaint at the Court of Common Pleas. The Complaint will set forth the property description, the names and addresses of the co-owners, and their interest in the property. The Complaint will often include claims for damages, such as taxes, mortgage payments, maintenance, or other property-related expenses.
Once the complaint is filed and served, the judge can issue an order directing partition of the property. After the order is issued, the judge will schedule a preliminary conference, during which the co-owners can set forth their positions, and try to reach an agreement regarding the property. If they cannot agree, then the judge will either continue to handle the matter his/herself, or appoint a partition “master’ (usually a local attorney) to handle the case. The judge or partition master will do some or all of the following: obtain an appraisal of the property, view the property personally, conduct hearings, and attempt to settle the matter.
How can Property be Divided?
The first question the judge or master will answer is whether the property can be physically divided into “purparts”. The word “partition” itself sounds like, and can be, a physical division of the property. However, many parcels are not amenable to being physically split up among the owners. For example, a small lot with a house could probably not effectively be divided and still retain its value. In these types of cases, the court will order a sale of the property rather than physical division.
Where the subject property is a larger tract of land, a court may issue an order to divide the property, giving each owner a physical piece of the property. The purparts might be of equal acreage, but if one part of the property contains improvements or valuable physical resources (timber, minerals, etc.), then the acreage can be divided in such a way that the new parcels are different sizes, but still equal in value.
Sometimes, even large tracts of land cannot be divided in a way that each owner obtains an equal share. In these cases, the court may order the land to be physically divided, and order the owner who obtains a more valuable piece to pay his co-owners the difference in value. This payment is called “owelty.” If even this solution is not workable, then the court will order a sale of the property.
Partition Sale – Private or Public
Once a judge or master has determined that a property cannot be adequately divided physically, the Court will order a forced sale of the property. First, the court must consider a “private sale” where only the current owners have the opportunity to bid on the property. If no current owner wishes to bid, then the court will order a public sale where any interested person may attend and bid.
PA law provides for the partition of real estate where owners can’t agree on how the property should be managed, or whether it should be sold. The partition process itself can be time-consuming and expensive. The costs of a partition action will reduce the amount realized by each owner; therefore, it is always best to reach an amicable settlement without court intervention if possible.
To discuss a partition, or other real estate law issues in Pennsylvania, contact the Chriswell Law Offices.