Won by default in small claims against ex-landlord. How to collect? (NJ)
September 11, 2013 5:55 PM   Subscribe

This is a follow up to this question. I sued my landlord in small claims court (NJ) because I never received my security deposit (after breaking the lease 1.25 months early, but someone else moved in 1 week after I moved out). He did not show up to court on the court date, so I won by default. I now have to contact him within 7 days to ask for the money. What should that letter look like? How do I actually get money from him?

According to the default judgment form that I filled out after the judge ruled that I win by default, I have to contact the landlord within 7 days of receiving a post card from the court to ask him to discuss payment. I am thinking of a letter like this (sent using certified mail), but I am really not sure how it should be worded. Is there a better example of a letter that I can use?


A default judgement has been made against you on {insert date} as a result of {insert case number}. The judgement total is $XXX.XX

Please contact me at {insert phone email, phone number, address} to discuss payment by {XX date}, otherwise I will have to go through the court to collect it from you. I am attaching a copy of the postcard I received in the mail from the court.

- Never.was.and.never.will.be.

How long should I give him to contact me about paying? I am pretty sure he is just going to ignore this letter.

Obviously the right thing to do would be to get a lawyer, but I am not sure if it is worth it for a relatively small amount of money (2 months rent x 2). Also, since I did not ask for "attorney fees" when suing him, does that mean that it is too late for the defendant to pay for the attorney fees if I end up using an attorney?

If he does not respond to me (which he likely won't), how do I actually go about getting money from him? The pamphlet they gave out in court seems like I would need to either know his bank account number or his employer to take money either from his account or his wages. Is this really how it's done? Does the court really not help follow through on people not paying when there is a default judgement against them? What is my next step for actually getting the money?

To make things more complicated, the week before the court date, he sent me a letter saying I owe him money, and to pay up before he takes me to court. He calculated a small amount ($248) by lying about the # of nail holes I made in the wall, and about the end of the lease date (I just checked my lease), so EVEN if the nail holes were correct (which they're NOT), he would STILL owe me money based on his calculations if he would have used the correct lease end date. I am ignoring that letter, is that the right thing to do? Or should I mention the two corrections in the above letter that I am sending him anyway?

Does anyone have any advice for me from being in a similar tenant/landlord situation, or a collecting-from-small-claims-court situation?
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

first, well done! the point of the letter appears to just be notice, so anything that puts a debtor on notice would seem to do the trick. NJ has a nice little pdf on how to collect on judgments.

I was in a similar situation in NJ and it wound up taking a year and change to collect, but tenacity is your friend in the process.
posted by jpe at 6:23 PM on September 11, 2013

re next step: if you don't know his bank account info, NJ permits you to subpoena banks. I think you have to send a form to him first asking for info on assets, and then if he doesn't respond then you get to subpoena banks for the info, order a sheriff's sale, seize his car, and all the revenge dream stuff.

it should all be in the packet (except the bank subpoena stuff was weirdly hard to figure out).
posted by jpe at 6:26 PM on September 11, 2013

Despite your concerns, you might want to contact a lawyer about this, to draft a letter and have it served by whoever is appropriate. My wife and I had to serve a notice to quit to a tenant in our house while we were away, and our lawyer drew it up and had a sheriff's deputy deliver it. It cost a couple benjamins, but it was worth it. Since the alternative is possibly not getting the money at all, consider the lawyer's and server's fees as a slight discount. And if he knows you have a lawyer, he might be less inclined to drag things out or file a countersuit.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:33 PM on September 11, 2013

Good for you!!!

Check your memail for a copy of the demand letter I sent to my landlord after winning in small claims court. You may want to check with small claims court and see if you need to file the judgement to make it a public record. It will show up whenever he has his credit report run. I had to do that, but all of my court cost were awarded including the filing of the judgement ($60). Make copies of the receipts.
posted by JujuB at 8:18 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

IANAL, certainly, but if it were me, I wouldn't address his letter in the letter you're sending him. If you want to address it, do it in a separate correspondence. I mean, I'd probably just wait to see if he took you to court and, if so, address it there.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:32 PM on September 11, 2013

You're probably wasting your time with the demand letter if this douche didn't even show up in court. He should have already been given the decision by the courts. But if the court is telling you to send him a letter, do it.

Make sure you send it via certified mail to the ADDRESS OF SERVICE...basically, where you send your rent payment.

After that...
this is what you need.

I am not a lawyer, but I have been referred to as "litigious" for obvious reasons...and my willingness to use the "till tap" to enforce judgment in the State of California.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:50 PM on September 11, 2013

Also, since I did not ask for "attorney fees" when suing him, does that mean that it is too late for the defendant to pay for the attorney fees if I end up using an attorney?

You wouldn't have been able to ask for attorney fees because you didn't have any, if you represented yourself Pro Se. Well, you could ask I suppose, but you wouldn't get anything unless you actually had attorney fees and in small claims court I think an award of attorney fees would be exceptional as small claims is designed specifically for an attorney to be unnecessary.

If he does not respond to me (which he likely won't), how do I actually go about getting money from him?

I'm assuming your landlord is solvent? Some options include obtaining a wage garnishment or writ of execution, and/or placing a lien on his assets. Start with writing the letter. You could speak with him and try to reason, explain how his failure to pay now will only cause him additional difficulties and embarrassment and won't actually avoid the fact that he ultimately will pay.
posted by doomtop at 8:55 AM on September 12, 2013

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