Depending on the state in which your property sits, you can probably collect back rent and damages from former tenants through wage garnishment.
Garnishment of wages is done through the courts, after a judgment is made against the debtor. The debtor’s employer is ordered to withhold a portion of his or her wages, and turn them over to the court, to be disbursed to the creditor.
The question most landlords ask is if the amount of money in question is worth the time, trouble and expense of the court proceedings required. The best way to determine this is to obtain an accounting of the fees involved: usually there are court costs, process server fees, filing fees, and attorney’s fees—unless no attorney is involved.
As with eviction proceedings, many landlords hire a landlord/tenant law specialist to file garnishment papers the first time, and then decide whether or not they can handle the process themselves. And that’s a personal decision, just like deciding what dollar amount makes the court action “worth it.” Every landlord is different in this respect. Once you determine the out-of-pocket costs, you can then make your decision.
Obtaining a judgment is one thing, but if the tenant has no means to pay it, you may never see the funds owed to you—and working hard to collect them could be a huge waste of your time. And it should go without saying that your former tenant needs to be employed in order for his or her wages to be garnished.
There are other factors to consider in making a decision to garnish a tenant’s wages:
- Do you have the tenant’s new address? If not, filing will be very difficult.
- Have they moved out of state? Again, filing becomes more complicated.
- Do they have other garnishments, such as for child support payments? Other garnishments must be satisfied first.
- Is the tenant’s income below the poverty line? If so, they are exempt.
If you decide to file for a Writ of Garnishment, you’ll need to gather all the tenant paperwork, including the lease application, the lease or rental agreement, proof of rent payment, proof of any notices to Pay or Quit, eviction papers, and notes from conversations and electronic communications.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for obtaining legal advice applicable to your situation.