how to collect unpaid rent from former tenant after eviction

You won your eviction lawsuit and taken possession of your rental property.  Now it’s time to collect unpaid rent.  

First of all, it’s important to mention that just because you won your eviction lawsuit in court does NOT mean that you will receive a money judgement to collect unpaid rent.  I’ll explain.

When you win an eviction lawsuit in court you will be issued a judgement of eviction.  The name may be different depending on where you live, but it nonetheless allows you to reclaim possession of your property.  

A money judgement, which is what you need to collect unpaid rent, is something different.  A money judgement, in many courts, will only be issued if one of the following is true:  

Court summons was not properly served to the tenants 

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OR

Tenant appeared in court despite NOT being served a summons 

If the tenant was not served the summons by someone permitted by the court, AND the tenant did not show up for court, it is likely you will NOT be able to get a money judgement.

Money judgement received – now you can collect unpaid rent 

Below is an example of what a money judgement looks like.  I’ve removed any personally indentifiable information.

collect unpaid rent

You received a money judgement, and assuming tenant still won’t willingly pay, it’s time to initiate a wage garnishment.  You’ve got two options: do the work yourself or hire an attorney.

DIY Wage Garnishment

If you know where the tenant works, it may be worth it to just do it yourself.  You should consult with your state’s Department of Labor website for steps you need to take, but the process will likely resemble the following:

  • You notify the sheriff where the tenant works
  • Sheriff, or other official, serves employer garnishment order
  • Employer garnishes wages
  • You get paid

Hire An Attorney

Attorney’s that specialize in wage garnishment will charge somewhere around 30-40% of the money actually garnished.  Additionally, there may be other fees to do an employer search, serve the garnishment order, etc.  

I always hire an attorney to help with wage garnishment.  Personally, I just don’t want to deal with it, but if you do it yourself, you’ll obviously same some cash.

Wage Garnishment Terms

Before we dive into wage garnishment limits, I think it’s important to define and understand the following terms according to the Federal Wage Garnishment Law: earnings, disposable earnings, & garnishment.

Definition of earnings

Earnings are defined as “compensation paid or payable for personal services, whether denominated as wages, salary, commission, bonus, or otherwise, and includes periodic payments pursuant to a pension or retirement program.”

Definition of disposable earnings

Disposable earnings are defined as “part of the earnings of any individual remaining after the deduction from those earnings of any amounts required by law to be withheld.”

Definition of garnishment

Garnishment is defined as “any legal or equitable procedure through which the earnings of any individual are required to be withheld for payment of any debt.”

What Can & Cannot Be Garnished

Wages, Bonuses, Commissions can usually be garnished.  Tips are not considered income by most states, so you will not likely be able to garnish those.

The following types of income can usually NOT be garnished to recover unpaid rent:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Workers compensation payments
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Income from pensions and other retirement accounts
  • VA benefits
  • State assistance (cash benefits provided to low-income residents)
  • Child Support & Spousal Support

 

Wage Garnishment Limits

There are federal and state laws that impose limits on how much you garnish.  Under federal law, you cannot garnish more than 25% of disposable earnings or the amount by which the debtor’s wages exceed 30 times the minimum wage, whichever is lower.

Furthermore, if there are other garnishments in effect, you may have to wait in line to get your money.  Also, if the debtor quits their job, contests the garnishment, or files for bankruptcy, you may find it difficult or impossible to garnish wages.

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