California State Homestead Exemption Law and Landmark Cases

Article XX, section 1.5 of the California Constitution states: "The Legislature shall protect, by law, from forced sale a certain portion of the homestead and other property of all heads of families." The Legislature has provided such protection in the Enforcement of Judgments Law. (Code Civ. Proc., 680.010 et seq.) Section 704.740, subdivision (a) provides in relevant part that "the interest of a natural person in a dwelling may not be sold ... to enforce a money judgment except pursuant to a court order for sale obtained under this article (Homestead Exemption) and the dwelling exemption shall be determined under this article." A dwelling is "a place where a person resides," and a homestead is "the principal dwelling (1) in which the judgment debtor ... resided on the date the judgment creditor's lien attached to the dwelling, and (2) in which the judgment debtor ... resided continuously thereafter until the date of the court determination that the dwelling is a homestead." ( 704.710, subds. (a), (c).) Such a homestead exemption does not require that a judgment debtor file or record a homestead declaration, but "'is available when a party has continuously resided in a dwelling from the time that a creditors' lien attaches until a court's determination in the forced sale process that the exemption does not apply.' " (Amin v. Khazindar (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 582, 588.) Courts "adopt a liberal construction of the law and facts to promote the beneficial purposes of the homestead legislation to benefit the debtor." (Amin v. Khazindar, supra, 112 Cal.App.4th at p. 588.) "A homestead exemption does not preclude sale of the home but entitles the homesteader to receive the value of the exemption if the property is sold to satisfy a judgment lien." (Wells Fargo Financial Leasing, Inc. v. D & M Cabinets (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 59, 68.) The amount of the homestead exemption depends on several factors. ( 704.730.) An unmarried person who is 55 years of age or older, with a gross annual income of $ 15,000 or less, is entitled to claim the maximum exemption, which was $ 150,000 at the time of the proceedings under review in this appeal. ( 704.730, former subd. (a)(3)(C); Stats. 2003, ch. 64, 1.)