Partition Referees in California

Partition referees in California effectuate the court’s judgment that the property should be partitioned, which usually involves a sale of the property.

List of Partition Referees in California

As the largest partition-only law firm in California, we are regularly asked for recommendations on partition referees in California.

California’s most popular partition referees

Below is a list of California lawyers who serve as partition referees who you are welcome to contact if you’re looking to appoint a partition referee in California.

Partition Referees with Different Backgrounds

1. Partition Referee Attorneys Who Handle the File Themselves

These partition referees are lawyers at a law firm. Since these attorneys work do not oversee a team as might be found at a receivership office, the attorney will be the primary contact and will personally handle the duties of the referee. These professionals will also utilize their legal expertise to handle the motion or stipulation to approve a sale or any other legal work, meaning most partitions will be completed without hiring outside counsel. By hiring one of the attorneys below, chances are, the cost of a partition referee will be in line with our estimates.

2. Partition Referees Who are Attorneys at a Receivership Firm

These professionals are attorneys, but oversee a firm primarily focused on receiverships. This can be particularly helpful for properties that require constant attention as the larger staff will be able to focus on complex properties. The staff include paralegals and multiple attorneys such that no outside law firm will be required to complete the ordinary legal work in a partition.

3. Partition Referees with Attorneys on Staff

Other partition referees are not attorneys, but do run a firm that has attorneys on staff. This means they will not need to outsource the ordinary legal work in a partition. These firms generally handle receivership work, meaning they will have different professionals on staff to assist in the matter.

4. Partition Referees who are Financial Professionals

Financial professionals, like a CPA, may offer financial analysis, forensic accounting, and financial management skills to the receivership role. They will generally need to outsource the legal work.

5. Retired Judges and Mediators in Mediation Firms

This category of referees and receivers may offer a wealth of judgment experience and mediation skills during dispute resolution.

6. Can Realtors Serve as Partition Referee?

While Realtors can serve as a partition referee, this may create three major difficulties.

First, the legal work to approve the sale will need to be completed, which may involve an outsourced law firm, thereby increasing the cost. Alternatively, the legal work might be done by one of the attorneys, potentially creating litigation before the court since attorneys must zealously advocate for their clients.

Second, most Realtors will be less equipped than a lawyer or other experienced partition referee to deal with conflicts between the co-owners, which are common.

There is a third concern in that the referee is provided with powers by the court. Do the co-owners want to trust someone who is not an attorney or professional referee to be vested with authority by the court? Does the court trust a non-attorney to be vested with broad authority, or will they grant a non-attorney fewer powers? If a referee is not provided with broad authority, they will be required to file motions to expand their authority, which will slow down the case and increase the cost.

Lawyers are a thoroughly regulated profession. An attorney referee will know how to interpret the court’s instructions set forth in the judgment.

Receivers & Referees in Partition of Real Estate Owned by Tenants in Common and Joint Tenants

When in a dispute with a co-owner of a piece of real estate, each co-owner has an absolute right to file an action to partition the property. We have posted a free form complaint to file in a partition action.

Using this form may help lower the costs associated with a partition action. As an aside, costs of a partition action may be subject to offsets arising from one co-owner’s undertaking of certain expenses. Costs recoverable potentially include attorney’s fees. However, when using this form, it is always prudent to consult with an experienced partition attorney to ensure compliance with applicable laws.

Further, there is a requirement to promptly file a lis pendens (or notice of pendency of action). Among other potential issues, if improperly filed, the lis pendens may be subject to expungement. To ensure you have properly filed the lis pendens, consult this free checklist.

The court must then decide whether a partition action should proceed in-kind or by sale. There are three tricks to use to help win a partition action, as well.

Keep in mind that all of this information likely does not apply to property a married couple owns as joint tenants. Spouses looking for information about how to sell jointly owned property in a divorce should seek the advice of a divorce attorney.

Given all of the issues arising in a partition action, it is prudent for a co-owner to do all that she can to protect the property while the partition is pending or after the judgment ordering a partition is entered. The question becomes: what is the best way to protect my property?

In short, the most efficient way to protect a piece of property subject to partition is to have a referee appointed under Code of Civil Procedure section 873.010(a) providing that: “The court shall appoint a referee to divide or sell the property as ordered by the court.”

Alternatively, a receiver can be appointed, with Section 564(b)(9) of the California Code of Civil Procedure noting that a receiver may be appointed: “In all … cases where necessary to preserve the property or rights of any party.” A partition action is one of these actions where a receiver may be deemed “necessary to preserve the property.”

What is the Cost of a Partition Referee?

By working with an experienced partition attorney who can select an efficient referee, the cost of the partition referee would normally be between $14,000 – $25,000 total. This includes the legal work completed by the referee to approve the sale, meaning the attorneys for both sides may be doing very little work once the referee is appointed, depending on whether there are any remaining issues. These fees generally split between the parties according to their ownership interests, meaning a 50% owner of a property with a $14,000 referee will be paying only $7,000 for the partition referee. Shifting all of the referee costs is most commonly seen when one co-owner is not cooperating with the referee.

When is a Receiver or Referee Appointed to Partition of Real Estate?

Section 564(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure notes that a court may appoint a receiver during the pendency of the proceeding in which a receiver is required. California cases affirm the court’s ability to appoint a receiver during the pending litigation. See Chalta v. Biller (1931) 212 Cal. 745, 747. “The following applicable rules of law on the merits of the case are settled: A superior court has jurisdiction to appoint a receiver as an ancillary remedy in an action for partition of real property between tenants in common.” Lent v. H.C. Morris Co. (1938) 25 Cal.App.2d 305, 307. “The superior court has jurisdiction to appoint a receiver as an ancillary remedy in an action for partition of real property among tenants in common and should do so when the circumstances require it.” Blodgett v. Haddock (1949) 95 Cal.App.2d 17, 18. Generally, the court is required to appoint a referee to market and sell the property. Code Civ. Proc. § 873.010(a).

Referees & Receivers – What Do They Do?

Generally, a receiver or referee is a neutral third party who is appointed to preserve a piece of property and any person’s rights in the property pending a judgment in the outstanding litigation. See Cal. Rules of Court Rule 3.1179; Code Civ. Proc. § 564.  Indeed, a partition referee is prohibited from having a relationship with the the judge or the court. Code Civ. Proc. § 873.050.

A receiver is an officer or representative of the court, appointed to take the charge and management of property which is the subject of litigation before it, for the purpose of its preservation and ultimate disposition according to the final judgment therein. Kreling v. Kreling (1897) 118 Cal. 421, 422.

This makes clear that a receiver or referee is not an agent of either of the parties of the subject litigation, but acts as a fiduciary with the duty to protect the interests of both parties to the litigation if appointed during the proceeding. See Cal. Rules of Court Rule 3.1179Shannon v. Sup. Ct. (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 986, 992-93Security Pacific Nat’l Bank v. Geernaert (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 1425, 1431-32Maggiora v. Palo Alto Inn, Inc. (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 706, 712. Given that the receiver is appointed to uphold its fiduciary duty to protect the interests of the co-owners of the subject property, it necessarily follows that a receiver has a duty to act as a prudent  owner would with respect to her own property. See Vitug v. Griffin (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 488, 496.

The partition laws even provide that: “The referee may perform any acts necessary to exercise the authority conferred by this title or by order of the court.” Code Civ. Proc. § 873.060. Many times, a partition referee may be given authority to change the locks if a co-tenant or occupant is uncooperative, make repairs, or hire professionals to maintain the property.

Appointing a Referee to Carry Out Partition by Sale

If a court orders a property partitioned by sale (i.e. sell the property and proceeds of sale are split between co-owners subject to partition action), a court may appoint a referee to carry out the sale pursuant to Code Civ. Proc. § 873.510. The court often refers to the referee to determine whether to sell the property by public auction or by private sale. Code Civ. Proc. § 873.610.

In order to follow through with the sale of the property subject to partition by sale, the referee must provide a report of the sale to the court including items required pursuant to Code Civ. Proc. § 873.710. Only upon court approval will the sale by a referee be deemed as final; a motion to confirm or set aside the sale may be made by the purchaser, a party to the partition, or the referee herself. Code Civ. Proc. § 873.720.

At this hearing, the court may confirm the sale, vacate the sale, or allow higher bids for the purchase of the partitioned property. Code Civ. Proc. §§ 873.730, 873.740.

The Critical Act of a Referee in a Sale – The Magic of the Partition Laws

Setting aside the legalese of the partition laws, the magic of the partition laws is that the referee conducts the one act that brought the parties to the partition court in the first place: They sign the deed to the buyer of the property.

As a practical matter, there are few parties interested in buying a fractional interest in real estate, especially to become a co-owner with someone they don’t know. That is because of all the headaches that come with co-ownership.

Moreover, a title company will require the signature of all owners to provide a title policy that the buyer holds a 100% interest in the property.

Sometimes, one co-owner simply refuses to sign a deed to a third party to sell the property or, more commonly, obstructs a sale even earlier in the process by refusing to sign a listing agreement to place the property on the open market to be sold. In so doing, the recalcitrant co-owner is holding their signature hostage, thereby forcing the other co-owners to remain as co-owners of a property they wish to sell. By selling the entire property, the value derived is the fair market value, not a diminished value since the public has little interest in buying a fractional share with a stranger.

Accordingly, the magic of the partition statutes is that they empower the court to appoint a third-party partition referee to sign the deed to the buyer and any related paperwork to provide close escrow on a transaction where each fractional owner can obtain the value of their interest. This referee makes the signature of the recalcitrant co-owner of no value, since they have been replaced in the process such that the property will be sold without their signature.

Title companies will accept the judgment or order appointing the referee as sufficient authority to sign on behalf of the co-owners of the property. The title companies will then record the judgment or order, usually just before the deed is recorded, thereby showing that the co-owners have been replaced by the referee as the proper party to sign away title on the property.

Appointing a Referee to Carry Out Partition In Kind

If, pursuant to an interlocutory judgment, a court orders a partition to ensue “in-kind” (i.e., physical division of the property rather than a sale of the property and split of the proceeds from sale), a referee may be appointed to divide the property according to the court’s instruction. Code Civ. Proc. § 873.210. Subject to court approval, the referee is entitled to engage attorneys, brokers, and other agents to carry out the referee’s duties. Code Civ. Proc. § 873.110 et seq.

How Does a Partition Referee Get Paid?

Typically, referees are paid on an hourly basis. This will be paid by the parties to the partition action should the partition proceed as an “in-kind” division of the property.

If the partition is ordered by sale, the costs of sale (including the cost of a partition referee) will be paid out of the proceeds of the sale at the end of the case. Code Civ. Proc. § 873.820.

Contact an Experienced Real Estate Partition Attorney in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, Riverside, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento, Fresno, and Surrounding Areas in California Today

Given the complexities associated with filing a partition action generally, and the complexities of getting a receiver appointed to protect your interest in a given piece of property, it would serve a potential litigant well to contact an experienced partition attorney to discuss the particulars of their case.

Talkov Law's Partition Attorneys Can Help

If you want to end your co-ownership relationship, but your co-owner won’t agree, a partition action is your only option. With seven, full time partition lawyers, Talkov Law is the #1 partition law firm in California and has handled over 300 partition actions throughout California. Every case has resulted in a sale to either a third party or one of the co-owners. Not a single court has denied our clients the right to partition or declared our client to be a non-owner. Plus, for qualified cases, there is no fee until we settle or win your case!

If you're looking to end your co-ownership dispute, contact California's premier partition action law firm by calling Talkov Law at (844) 4-TALKOV (825568) or sending us a message today.

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