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Collecting Judgments From Ex-Tenants

Background Information

Before we get started
with our collection lessons we should address how you got your debtor, and where you want to go to start.

Sources of Judgments
      A landlord can get a money judgment to collect for a variety of reasons including eviction, unpaid rent,  and physical damage.  Or, a landlord might have a judgment from a suit against a vendor of services or supplies.
      The limits of Small Claims Court suits in most states, and the fact that costs are significantly reduced because an attorney is not needed, means that most judgments related to rental properties come from Small Claims Courts.
      Small claims courts are an important and valuable tool that should be understood and used by every landlord. All to often bad tenants get away with bad behavior which makes them more likely to repeat with the next landlord, and the next. Judgments are usually good for ten years, then renewable for another ten, so they are almost always collectable at some point. That means that it is almost always worth the time and small amount of money necessary to go to small claims court.

Small Claims Courts
      Small Claims Courts are now better known as People's Courts,  perhaps because of TV shows by that name. They have been established in the U.S. to resolve minor disputes and those involving relatively modest amounts of money. The people or businesses involved in the  litigation appropriate to small claims, normally present their cases to a judge, magistrate or court commissioner under rules that encourage a minimum of legal and procedural formality.
      The maximum amount you can sue for varies among the states from $1,000 to $15,000, but small claims is limited to $5,000 or less in most states. (See the chart below)
      The presiding official listens to testimony, examines evidence, then makes a decision (a judgment), usually right then and there. The right of appeal to a higher court is protected, however small claim rules may still apply.
      Although procedural rules dealing with when and where to file and how to serve papers are established by each state's laws and differ in some detail, the basic approach to properly preparing and presenting a small claims case is remarkably similar throughout the United States.
      In most states you can be represented by a lawyer in a small claims court if you like. However, in a handful of states, including California, Nebraska and Michigan, you must appear on your own. Some others, have adopted important new legislation that allows a property manager to appear on behalf of a property owner in small claims cases relating to landlord tenant issues.
      Where hiring a lawyer for Small Claims Court is allowed, it is rarely cost-efficient. Most lawyers charge too much to prepare a case and go to court, given the relatively small amounts of money involved in small claims disputes.
      Interestingly, several studies show that people who represent themselves in small claims cases usually do just as well as those who have a lawyer.

Small Claims Court Suit $ Limits

State Maximum Dollar Amount Brochures/Pamphlets Court Links
Alabama $3000 Alabama Brochure Alabama Court Link
Alaska $7500 Alaska Brochure Alaska Court Link
Arizona $2500 Arizona Brochure Arizona Court Link
Arkansas $5000 Arkansas Brochure
California $5000 California Brochure California Court Link
Colorado $5000 Colorado Brochure
Connecticut $3500 Connecticut Brochure Connecticut Court Link
Delaware $15000 Delaware Brochure Delaware Court Link
District of Columbia $5000 District of Columbia Brochure District of Columbia Court Link
Florida $5000 Florida Brochure Florida Court Link
Georgia $5000 Georgia Brochure (Cobb County) Georgia Court Link
Hawaii 1 $3500 Hawaii Brochure Hawaii Court Link
Idaho $3000 Idaho Brochure Idaho Court Link
Illinois $5000 Illinois Brochure
Indiana 2 $3000 Indiana Brochure (Hamilton County) Indiana Court Link
Iowa $4000 Iowa Brochure Iowa Court Link
Kansas $1800 Kansas Brochure Kansas Court Link
Kentucky $1500 Kentucky Brochure Kentucky Court Link
Louisiana $3000 Louisiana Brochure
Maine $4500 Maine Brochure Maine Court Link
Maryland $2500 Maryland Brochure Maryland Court Link
Massachusetts $2000 Massachusetts Brochure Massachusetts Court Link
Michigan $3000 Michigan Brochure Michigan Court Link
Minnesota $7500 Minnesota Brochure Minnesota Court Link
Mississippi $2500
Missouri $3000 Missouri Brochure Missouri Court Link
Montana $3000 Montana Brochure Montana Court Link
Nebraska $2400 Nebraska Brochure Nebraska Court Link
Nevada $5000 Nevada Brochure (Las Vegas) Nevada Court Link (Las Vegas)
New Hampshire $2500 New Hampshire Brochure New Hampshire Court Link
New Jersey $2000 New Jersey Brochure New Jersey Court Link
New Mexico $7500 New Mexico Brochure New Mexico Court Link
New York $3000 New York Brochure New York Court Links
North Carolina $4000 North Carolina Brochure North Carolina Court Link
North Dakota $5000 North Dakota Brochure North Dakota Court Link
Ohio $3000 Ohio Brochure Ohio Court Link
Oklahoma $4500 Oklahoma Brochure  
Oregon $5000 Oregon Court Link
Pennsylvania $5000-10000
Rhode Island $1500 Rhode Island Court Link
South Carolina $5000 South Carolina Brochure South Carolina Court Link
South Dakota $8000 South Dakota Brochure South Dakota Court Link
Tennessee 3 $10000 Tennessee Brochure
Texas $5000 Texas Brochure (Williamson County) Texas Court Link
Utah $5000 Utah Brochure Utah Court Link
Vermont $3500 Vermont Brochure Vermont Court Link
Virginia 4 $1000 Virginia Brochure Virginia Court Link
Washington $2500 Washington Brochure  
West Virginia $5000    
Wisconsin $5000 Wisconsin Brochure (La Crosse) Wisconsin Court Link
Wyoming $3000 Wyoming Brochure Wyoming Court Link

1  No limit in deposit cases.
2  $6,000 in Marion and Lake Counties; $3,000 in others.
3  $15,000 if county population over 700,000
4   Depends on jurisdiction. $10,000 is maximum.




Pre-course Quiz
Prevent Collections
Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Lesson 5
Lesson 6

Final Quiz



Calculating Judgments
Fair Debt Collection Act
Law Sources
Memorandum of Costs
Motor Vehicle Records
State Web Sites
Tracing & Tracking







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