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Understanding the Statute of Frauds and Ownership Claims in Real Estate Transactions in California

A recently filed complaint has raised some intriguing questions regarding ownership rights in real estate transactions, the Statute of Frauds, and the role of Deeds of Trust in establishing ownership. According to the plaintiff, the agreement made her the real owner, though the title was held in the name of the defendant. However, the absence of a written contract substantiating this claim becomes a significant hurdle due to the applicability of the Statute of Frauds.

I. The Statute of Frauds and Its Role in The Alleged Agreement

California law, specifically California Civil Code Section 1624(a)(3), mandates any contract concerning the sale of real property to be in writing to be legally enforceable. This legal requirement is part of the Statute of Frauds, designed to prevent fraudulent actions and perjury in contractual agreements.

The alleged agreement between the plaintiff's husband and the defendant falls directly under the Statute of Frauds, given it pertains to a claimed ownership interest in real property. Consequently, the plaintiff has the onus to provide evidence that the agreement was indeed in writing and signed by the involved parties.

II. Why The Alleged Exemptions to The Statute of Frauds Do Not Apply

Despite the clear necessity for written agreements, the plaintiff may contend that certain exemptions to the Statute of Frauds are applicable. Two such potential exemptions include the doctrines of partial performance and estoppel.

A. Partial Performance

In some instances, the doctrine of partial performance can serve as an exception to the Statute of Frauds. This occurs when the enforcing party has partially fulfilled their obligations under the contract, and the opposing party has accepted this performance (Monarco v. Lo Greco, 35 Cal. 2d 621, 624 (1950)).

B. Estoppel

The doctrine of promissory estoppel may also serve as an exception to the Statute of Frauds. Its applicability hinges on the fulfillment of four elements: a clear and unambiguous promise; reliance by the promisee; reasonable and foreseeable reliance; and injury suffered due to reliance on the promise (Kajima/Ray Wilson v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 23 Cal. 4th 305, 310 (2000)). The plaintiff's complaint does not fulfill these requirements, failing to pinpoint a clear promise by the defendants or a specific injury resulting from the plaintiff's reliance.


The intricate weave of legal concepts involved in real estate transactions underscores the importance of written agreements and understanding the nuances of legal instruments like Deeds of Trust. As we have seen, the Statute of Frauds, along with doctrines like partial performance and promissory estoppel, plays a pivotal role in validating contractual claims in California's courts. It's always recommended to consult with an experienced real estate attorney to ensure all transactions are legally sound and compliant with California law.

Contact the Law Office of Jack Kakoian if you are facing a contract dispute concerning the title of real property to see how we can be of help to you.

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