Filing a judgement against a former tenant?

14 Replies

I have a former tenant that owes me about 6 weeks back rent and left the place a mess. I have never filed a judgement before. How much will this cost me? This property is in another state far away from where I live. It's about $2,000 I'm owed, is it worth the cost of going after? I do know where the tenant works for wage garnishment. Also, I have heard there are companies that will report this to a tenant credit without even having a judgement. Anyone know of these services? Worst case it would be a moral victory for me to put a ding on their credit even if I don't get any cash.

Usually you get a judgement with an eviction case and rarely are they collected on. You wont be able to garnish wages. You could pay fees to be able to report to credit bureaus, go to small claims court ect but I would suggest saving time and $. Tenant screening is the key.

I have known landlords that have successfully garnished wages. But for what I'm owed I agree it's not worth the effort. I have heard for like $16 you can report this to their credit without a judgment. Anybody know the name of a company that does that? It's just a personal satisfaction to know I dinged their credit.

The other thing is that tenant (and her daughter who was on the lease) will never be able to buy or refinance a house without paying any recorded judgement against them. A lot of people who go to buy a house have a rude awakening when they see that judgement from 6 years ago pop up in a records search and has to be paid before they close. Ahhh sweet revenge.

I do file for judgement just so there is a ding on their record for the next person to check but I wouldn't pursue it too hard after that. I've never heard of a company that will put something on someones credit for $16 without a judgement, and if there is that's pretty scary.

Turn it over to a collection agency and let them collect, and they will report it to the bureaus.


Joe Gore

Don't take things personal as a landlord.

FIRST thing you need to do is find out if they are judgment proof. If they are not collectible then you are wasting your time. Sure you can get a judgment and keep renewing it for your state but that doesn't mean their situation will ever change and you will get the money.

You usually get a judgment with eviction if the tenant answered the court summons. If not you will have to go to small claims court and win a judgment and then you have to go through additional steps for wage garnishment or bank levy. Even if you win that step the former tenants have to make above a certain Federal income threshold and then you are only allowed to take up to 25% per paycheck. it's a very long and grueling process. If a judgment company feels the tenant is collectible they usually offer to split any money recovered 50/50 and pay for court costs. Attorneys are a joke and want 500 to even try and say they will guarantee no results. The only thing to use an attorney for is to send a scare letter to the former tenant and see if they cough up some cash. The attorney shouldn't charge but a small amount to do this. Collection companies are a joke as well and only can ding the credit which many deadbeat tenants care nothing about.

Speaking from actual experience having a 20 unit apartment building here.

Hope it helps. No legal advice.

Medium allworldrealtyJoel Owens, All World Realty | [email protected] | 678‑779‑2798 | http://www.AWcommercial.com | Podcast Guest on Show #47

I filed a judgment from a previous tenant and the tenant later went on to purchase a home and I was contacted to settle the debt.  This is in Pennsylvania and the judgment was under $2k.  I believe it cost $40 to file the judgment with the county. This is pretty much the only way to recover money from a tenant judgment.

if you have a judgement that was issued by a  court that is automatically picked up on their credit report by the agencies

No company avatar mediumJohn Thedford, John Thedford | 239‑200‑5600 | http://www.capehomebuyers.com | FL Agent # BK3098153

Hi @Rob Cee

Not sure what state you invest in, but some states do allow landlords to garnish wages for unpaid rent. So that's something for you to check. 

One other thought is to check what state law requires you to do in terms of seizing assets in a bank account. In Pennsylvania, for example, you have about three or four steps that you must take. They are fairly simple to do as long as you have accurate bank information and have the necessary forms already prepared. Whether it's worth it depends on the exact situation because you have to pay the sheriff's office. 

Agree with @Joel Owens attorneys and collection agencies are not much of a help. Probably the best that the attorney can do is: (1) educate on the state law; and (2) help you devise a standardized system for dealing with evictions. Collection agencies are not very helpful if the tenant knows how to deal with them --- not particularly hard in this day and age of googling. 

One last thought: whenever you have to evict a tenant, you should review your process for screening and "conflict resolution." Sometimes you are just unlucky. But many times there is something you can do to improve the process so that you can minimize your damages. Each difficult tenant you deal with should be a learning process. 

Medium logo   united glassChris K. JD, United Glass Ventures, LLC | http://unitedglassgroup.com

@Chris K. just out of curiosity (basically my learning), does PA allow wage garnishment? 

Yes PA does allow wage garnishment.

I file all my cases to Small Claims Court for anything over $100, Why, because I operate a business with firm set standards, as with any business, and do not simply write off loses. Additionally I consider these tenants to be criminal in nature and I never allow these types of people to get of scot free. It is generally worth the effort and expense, but by far the greater advantage is the personal satisfaction that comes from teaching lessons and damaging their credit.

I often collect during the process, sometimes after, sometimes far after when they are trying to move on with their lives. We are also allowed to garnish wages which is a major plus. If you can not garnish wages it may not be worth your time or effort for anything under $500. We are not allowed to garnish any individual on government assistance (I never rent to any one on welfare for that reason). 

When screening applicants you not only screen for ability to pay but additionally your ability to collect when they do not pay. For this reason you want to select tenants with good credit scores that value their employment relationship so that they have something to lose when you take them to court. 

I am in PA. I have filed wage garnishments before. Its been awhile but I think it was less than $125. I did it myself. No attorney needed.

@Justin Kovach : as other folks mentioned above, PA does allow wage garnishment. Note that the law does limit the amount that the landlord can garnish. If you do a Google Search with the following words, you should get a few articles describing the basic law: "Pennsylvania" "wage garnishment" "landlord." If you have other questions, just shoot me a PM.

Medium logo   united glassChris K. JD, United Glass Ventures, LLC | http://unitedglassgroup.com