The judge in your Landlord/Tenant case has decided in your favor, and now you've won your money judgment. But the court doesn’t actually make your tenant pay. The court leaves that collection process up to you. Perhaps the tenant will send you a check immediately. But, more than likely, you’ll be waiting for months, even years. That lost money becomes nothing more than a write-off in most instances. Landlords often forego pursuit of the money judgment, seeing it as a lost cause. Although this process can be disheartening and intimidating, there is professional help available and it may be worthwhile.
First, let’s define what we mean by a money judgment. In a civil matter, a money judgment is an order issued by a court that one party in the lawsuit is to pay the other party a certain sum of money. The amount of money awarded is referred to as a “money judgment”. Although a judgment gives the Landlord the right to collect the money owed, there are several legal steps involved before you get to the collection process. Each state has its own criteria for recording judgments and enforcing the collection. In all probability it is best to have an attorney or collection agency handle the collection of judgments. Without professional legal counsel, mistakes may be made that will wind up costing the landlord more in the end.
It’s important for a landlord to be educated on the procedure for collecting on a judgment award. Individual cases may vary but a tenant will usually receive an order by law such as a signed judgment stipulation. However, it is not until the judgment is recorded that is becomes enforceable. In order to facilitate actual collection, a “Writ” or “Order” of Execution must first be obtained. Each jurisdiction handles this process slightly different so it is important to contact the appropriate local government agency or the sheriff’s office. Once the collection process begins, there are several possibilities that may occur to force your tenant(s) to pay.
Provided the proper procedure for your jurisdiction has been followed, the judgment will appear on a transcript file which is usually submitted to credit reporting agencies. These measures are what most often force a tenant to pay the judgment or negotiate a settlement with the landlord because a recorded judgment on their credit report can prevent them from obtaining a credit card, automobile loan, student loan, or home mortgage. Attorneys and collection agencies encounter numerous circumstances where tenants contacted them sometimes years later, to make settlement on this type of judgment.
In order to proceed with any of the above remedies, you must have knowledge of the existence of the tenant’s assets. Assets including wages, bank accounts, vehicles and personal property may be seized to satisfy a judgment. This information is easier to access by using a comprehensive rental application when screening your tenants.Without the tenant’s asset information, collecting on a judgment becomes more expensive. Under these circumstances the judgment award may not be sufficient enough to compensate the costs involved.
Unless a tenant files for bankruptcy, a judgment is valid for a period of ten years from the date it was entered by the Court. In addition, prior to the expiration of the ten year period, you can apply to the Court for an extension for an additional ten year period. Therefore, you have a total of twenty years to collect on your judgment.
Although, it can be advantageous for the landlord to collect on a judgment award, it is wise to have the assistance of an attorney or collection firm. Professional fees may be negotiated and are often deducted from the amount collected.