Real Property Law

The Costs of a Partition Action

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By Underwood Law Firm

In every lawsuit, one of the biggest considerations is the cost. Frequently, clients are very eager to understand the amount that they will be required to pay to have their case resolved. After all, most people do not have a pot of money set aside for lawsuits, and are forced to eat into their savings to pay for an attorney to help with their legal problems. Even when attorneys’ fees are available for reimbursement, as they are in a partition action, the question of costs is always a significant question. 

While an attorney can never predict the exact amount down to the dollar that a case will cost, they can and should share the factors that could influence the amount that the client may ultimately have to pay to get the case resolved. For example, in a partition action, there are common issues that arise that could change the cost of the matter. That said, a relatively vanilla partition action generally costs more or less between $10,000 to $30,000.  

Factors that Affect a Partition Action

The main factors that affect the cost of a partition action include (1) title disputes, (2) the necessity of an eviction, (3) the use of a lawyer as a referee, and (4) the lawyer’s familiarity with partition actions.

Every partition action includes a determination of a parties’ title interests. In a tenancy in common, the parties’ interests could vary depending on the amount they contributed to the downpayment, or mortgage over the years. Other times, a party will challenge the state of another’s title based on the parties’ interaction at the time of acquisition. When there are problems with title, it can substantially impact the cost of a partition action. 

While title issues are generally one of the first things involved in a lawsuit, the latter half of the lawsuit typically involves securing possession of the property. In partition actions, one of the owners is frequently also living in the property. While all parties are expected to comply with Court orders, an owner who is living rent-free is often reluctant to leave the situation. As a result, a writ of possession may be required to remove the other co-owner from the property in order to complete the partition sale. This additional procedure can add further cost to the process. 

The Higher Costs from Using a Lawyer Referee in a Partition Action

Generally, the point of a partition action is simply to require the other co-owner to purchase the other owner’s interests or have the property sold. In a buy-out situation, all that may be required is an appraiser. In a property sale, all that is frequently needed is a realtor to market the property and complete the transaction. In either scenario, the key is simply finding the right tool for the job. 

That said, some partition lawyers insist on hiring another lawyer (called a referee or receiver) to manage the process. That’s right. You as a client hire a lawyer to solve the problem, and their solution is…to hire another lawyer. Then, that other lawyer’s job will simply consist of hiring a realtor themselves. What’s worse, that other lawyer (the referee) will very frequently then hire their own lawyer to act on their behalf. This will cause the cost of the partition to skyrocket for the individual. 

In such a scenario, the client who merely wants to sell hires a lawyer to partition the property. That first lawyer files the partition on behalf of the party who wants to sell (the plaintiff), and serves the non-agreeable owner (the Defendant) with the lawsuit, who then hires their own lawyer. At this point, there are three lawyers total: the Plaintiff’s lawyer, the Defendant’s lawyer, and the Judge (who is a former) lawyer. 

Then, the Plaintiff’s lawyer argues that the Court should hire a referee/ receiver to assist with the Property’s sale. This brings the total number of lawyers to four. Again, that referee/ receiver lawyer’s job may be only to hire a realtor or appraiser. Frequently, however, they may hire a lawyer themselves to assist with the process of communicating with the realtor. That brings the total number of lawyers to fiveFive lawyers just to have a realtor sell a property in what is a typical transaction. This is the worst case scenario for a client who merely wants to recover as much money as possible from the transaction. 

For example, Richardson Griswold charged $20,400.26 to serve as a referee in a partition action which simply included retaining a realtor to sell the Property (San Joaquin County Superior Court Case Number 2022-0004054). 

In another example, Gerard Keena received $25,833.73—and the referee’s lawyer received another $8,877.22—to serve as a referee in a partition action. (Alameda County Superior Court Case Number RG-21102000.)

As another example, Matthew Taylor received $60,155.32 to serve as a referee in a partition action. (Riverside County Superior Court Case Number RIC 1503955). 

Again, these fees are merely expenses spent to manage the sale of real estate and on top of the fees paid to each party’s lawyers and the realtor.

Clearly, any partition lawyer who makes it their main practice to merely hire another lawyer to serve as the referee—instead of a simple realtor—is likely not as interested in their client’s bottom line as the client themselves. 

These extra referee fees, on top of the realtor fees and the fees for the lawyers hired to handle the suit themselves, are a critical consideration. 

As such, any person considering a partition action should interview a prospective lawyer and ask whether they make hiring another to handle the matter part of their regular practice.

The Higher Costs from Using a General Civil Practitioner

Just like the rest of life, practice makes perfect. Doctors specialize. Musicians specialize. Athletes specialize. Lawyers, for some unknown reason, believe that they can be truly great at everything. Reality disagrees. 

Because legal fees are simply the product of time spent multiplied by the lawyer’s hourly rate, a lawyer who does not routinely practice in the partition field is simply going to spend longer to prepare basic matters in a partition than another lawyer whose practice is devoted to the field. 

Frequently, a general real estate lawyer will tell the client that they are very familiar with partition actions, having handled at least 10 of them in the last 15 years. The lawyers at the Underwood Law Firm are generally handling 30-40 partitions, a piece, at any given time. As such, any person considering a partition action should interview a prospective lawyer and ask whether they make hiring another lawyer to handle the matter part of their regular practice.

How can the attorneys at Underwood Law Firm, P.C. help?

Understanding the procedures and their related costs in a partition action is important for anyone who is considering partitioning their property. 

Further, the risks of increased costs from lawyers acting as partition referees—instead of a simple realtor—can exponentially increase the costs of a partition. 

The experienced and dedicated attorneys at Underwood Law Firm, P.C. are here to help guide you through your partition action to ensure your property interests are upheld. Contact us today.


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