It's the principle of the matter now.
January 6, 2010 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Won a large judgment against scumbag landlords in small claims, who refuse to pay the judgment. Placed liens on their property, had the Sheriff levy their bank account, but there was nothing in it. Nothing has worked. What can we do to get our money back short of going through the long expensive process of repossessing their property?

Any experiences with this would be appreciated. It seems like a collection agency wouldn't do any more than we already have except harass them. We're in Alameda County in California. They own multiple houses, restaurants, and drive BMW and Mercedes SUV's, they've got a lot of money.

Wrongful withholding of deposit on large house, the landlords have since the same thing to two other renters who are currently also suing them in small claims. What can we do to stop this and to get our money back?
posted by Large Marge to Law & Government (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
How large is "Large", Marge? Um, talking about the judgment here.
posted by SpecialK at 1:07 PM on January 6, 2010


over $6k
posted by Large Marge at 1:08 PM on January 6, 2010


Is wage garnishment an option in your state?

It might be worth a conversation with an attorney who specializes in these sorts of things.
posted by jquinby at 1:09 PM on January 6, 2010


that same sheriff can probably take their car as payment. Depends on the amount owed, but I know that they pretty much can walk into the debtor's place and take personal property of a certain value and give it to you as payment.
posted by Gungho at 1:09 PM on January 6, 2010


I don't know about California, but here in Georgia, the judgement and liens will accumulate interest at 12% annually. They will not be able to sell or refi that house until your lien is satisfied, either. If you don't need the 6k right now, there's an argument to be made for leaving it there and renewing the lien/judgement as the law requires, as a 12% guaranteed return on investment is damn good in this day and age.


IANAL, blah blah blah.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:29 PM on January 6, 2010


The limit for small claims in Cali is $7.5K, so its less than that. Another thing you can do is "till tap".

What this does is place a sheriff at the front of the business. ANY money that comes in is collected by the sheriff, and goes straight to you. Since he's a landlord, I'm guessing he's collecting rent.

The bad thing is that it costs like $45/day to have the sheriff's office to day (although its quite a deal to hire a legal guy with a gun to rob your landlord like that). If this guy is scummy enough, you might get a judge to make the landlord pay for that $45/day fee as well.

Contact your local sheriff's office for that.

Good luck, and I'd appreciate an update via PM...since I LOVE to see these bastards go down.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:32 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are people who will buy debts like this, at a discount. You might get $3000 but you'd get it right away. They would then foreclose on the property etc.

Threatening to do that might get the attention of the scumbag landlord.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:51 PM on January 6, 2010


Yeah, I'd sue the guy afterward for any costs in enforcing the judgement. I found an article that lays out the various processes, I'm not sure which you've already done but it might be helpful.

You could also picket his restaurants.
posted by rhizome at 1:53 PM on January 6, 2010


IAAL. IANYL. TINLA.

Speak to a lawyer or debt collector SOON. You mention that this landlord is currently being sued by others. Since you've already received a judgment you're in a good position, but if the others are able to get judgments, they can attach them to the landlord's assets same as you.

What you need to do is find out where the landlord's money or other assets are, and attach those assets before the others do the same thing. A debt collector may have expertise finding where these assets are.

Since there are other potential claimants out there, you want to attach first on anything valuable. You'll pay some amount to the debt collectors, but it is probably better than having the other claimants get to the assets first. There may not be anything left.

Good luck.
posted by gauche at 2:01 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not a lawyer and have no experience with collecting judgements.

However,

It seems to me that one thing you need to do to execute the judgement is to identify assets of the scumbag landlord.

Since you appear to have had some financial transactions with scumbag landlord, possibly involving the writing of checks to said landlord which you may have received copies of after processing, perhaps you already have the landlord's bank name/checking account # at your disposal?

Perhaps that checking account should be hit first to satistfy your judgement? Perhaps shortly after the first of the month after it has accumulated rents?
posted by de void at 2:16 PM on January 6, 2010


IANYL - but have you tried all of these methods?

I wish there was a quick and easy way to get your money back. I don't think there is - only lengthy and somewhat complicated ways. Perhaps you just need to be persistent - I mean, if they're landlords, they must have a lot checks deposited into their bank accounts sometime at the beginning of the month. You can subpoena the bank to get the bank statements detailing the pattern of payments and withdrawals, so maybe that will help with your timing. I don't think there's a limit on how often you can get a writ of execution on a bank account -- double check that.

You've done their judgment-debtor exam, right? Notice it, with a request for specific documents (stuff like bank account info), and at the exam, have them identify all their assets, all of their bank accounts (they may have more than one) with account numbers, all people that owe them money, their SSNs, etc. If they refuse to answer, you might be able to go back to the judge and compel them to answer right then and there. If they don't have the information on-hand, you can notice a continued judgment-debtor exam requiring them to bring the missing docs. If they don't show up to the judgment-debtor exam, there's a good chance the judge will issue a bench warrant, eventually.

There might be a way you can get the money from people who owe them money -- i.e. other tenants -- by having the tenants pay you instead of the landlord. You have to do some paperwork filings and get a court order, something like a writ of execution on a debt owed to the debtor or something like that. Not sure exactly how that works.

Again, IANYL, and TINLA.

You're probably best off getting legal assistance from an attorney. I might be biased in recommending that.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:42 PM on January 6, 2010


insert usual disclaimers here.

Who did you sue? You can only collect against the judgment debtor, who is the loser in your case. If this guy is a professional landlord as opposed to a guy renting a room in his house, odds are your landlord is Scumbag Realty, LLC, not Mr. Landlord. So the fact that Landlord is driving around in nice rides etc is only meaningful to the extent that your judgment is against the entity that actually owns the car/house/restaurant etc.

You need to find out if Cali permits discovery in aid of execution, which basically means that you can make a representative of the judgment debtor show up and answer questions designed to find out where his money is.

The methods above are good; as is the notion of preserving the judgment as leverage if he needs loans mortgages etc in the future.
posted by minimii at 3:11 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Assuming that you have followed minimii's thought and are sure that you have a judgment against the proper person: One effective means of collecting on a judgment is to seize personal property and sell it at auction. Desks, chairs, computers, anything that is found at his place of business and is not exempt is fair game.

Of course, you should seek legal advice before proceeding. You need to know what is exempt, for one thing.
posted by megatherium at 6:36 PM on January 6, 2010


I am a lawyer, but not one licensed in CA.

Assumptions in my answer:

You sued the correct entity / person
You obtained a valid judgment (proper service, etc.)
You "placed liens on the property" by correctly recording the judgment or an abstract of judgment in the chain of title of any and all real property landlord owns
Your judgment is correctly written so that it is accruing interest at the statutory rate. In the state where I practice it's 9% simple per year. CA - I have no idea.

If all of that is true one choice you have, and one I often recommend to folks with smallish judgments (and in the world of debt collecting $6k is very smallish indeed) is to do nothing.
If landlord tries to sell or refi any property encumbered with your judgment he/she/it/they cannot get title insurance or pass clear title without paying you off.
If the property is owned by an individual and they die you get paid through probate.

All the while you wait for one of these things to happen you are earning what in my state would be a nice interest rate.

Doesn't get you money today but avoids spending time or money hassling to get it. Just wait and that's all that is needed.

However, given that CA is one of the most unique legal environments in the US and especially so for Landlord-Tenant matters it is absolutely worth it to pungle up the money for an hour's time from a collection specialist attorney in your county.

Good luck
posted by BrooksCooper at 10:41 PM on January 6, 2010


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