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Collecting Back Rent & Damages with Garnishment

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The below topics are discussed in much more depth
  on our members' Garnishment page.

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I t's often tough to get a former tenant to pay a money judgment that you win in court for unpaid rent or other damages.

The most effective method is "wage garnishment", a legal process that allows you to collect a certain percentage of net salary until the judgment is paid off. It's available in every state -- except Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania.


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Wage garnishment and the necessary steps to garnish wages.

Garnishment Basics

Garnishment specifics vary from state to state. But in nearly all states, you must first have a court judgment that orders the defendant to pay the judgment amount. Then you must fill out necessary court forms and have them legally served on the party you want to garnishee.

Once the employer has been legally served, they must take money from the former tenant's paycheck and send you a check, either directly or through the court.

Federal law limits the amount you can garnish, in most cases, to 25 percent of a person's net weekly earnings after taxes, Social Security, and other required deductions are taken out. Some state laws also limit how much you can garnish.

Can You Do It Yourself?

You can use an attorney or a collection agency to garnish an ex-tenant's wages, but experienced property managers often do it themselves.

Consider these factors in making your decision:

  • The complexity of garnishment procedure in your state.
  • Size of your apartment community or number of rental properties.
  • Experience with other legal processes

Is garnishment worth it? Here are some factors to consider:

  • Amount of judgment
  • Type of job
  • Income
  • Location of employment


Get the Forms for Garnishing Wages

When you get a court judgment, tell the court clerk you want to "execute;" or enforce, the judgment by garnishing the former tenant's wages. Ask the clerk what forms you need, the fees involved, and what steps to take.

Fill Out Forms

The forms authorize the employer to withhold money from the debtor's paycheck for you. You may need the name and current address of the former tenant, their Social Security number, their employer, the amount of the judgment, the fees, etc.

File Forms with Court, if required

Depending on what state and county you're in, you may need to file the forms with the court. In some states, you must wait until the former tenant has a chance to appeal the judgment before you can file garnishment forms.

Give Forms to the Sheriff or other authorized person to serve the employer

Once you file the forms in court (if required), give the completed copy of the forms to the court officer who will serve them. Once the employer has been served, they must comply with the garnishment order.

Pay Service Fee

You'll need to pay a sheriff's fee to cover service costs.

Collect Money Each Month

Once the employer has been served, they may have to wait a certain number of days, depending on your state's law, before taking the money out of the former tenant's wages. This gives the former tenant a chance to challenge the garnishment. He may successfully claim that the garnishment imposes an undue hardship on him because he can't support his family.

After the waiting period is over, the employer should begin taking out money from the former tenant's paycheck. Remember that if the former tenant has other judgments against him that are already being garnished, they will take priority.

In some states, like Colorado, you can only garnish for a certain time period. Then you must re-file new garnishment forms.

How to Track Down Where Former tenant Works

To garnish an ex-resident's wages, you must find out where the former tenant works. The first place to start is with the information from their rental application , from which you should be able to obtain: .

  • Employer
  • Employment supervisor
  • Social Security number
  • Personal references and emergency contacts

Be careful what you say about any current or former tenant when you call the employer or contacts.

Additional Sources:

In some states, w ages are not the only income source you can garnishee.

RHOL members can get a nearly professional education on collecting judgments in our new Collecting e-course .

The above topics are discussed in much more depth
  on our members' Garnishment page.

Non-Members' Homepage

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