Source: The New York Landlord's Law Book-2nd Edition

Author: Attorney Mary Ann Hallenborg

Winning a Small Claims court case won't do you any good if you can't collect a judgement. Suing a person you know to be bankrupt, insolvent or just plain broke may not be worth the effort, since you'll have little chance of transforming your court judgement into cash. When you evaluate the solvency of the Tenant, keep in mind that Small Claims Judgements are good for 20 years, (CPLR 211(b)). So if you have a spat with a Student or someone who may get a job soon, it might be worthwhile to get a Judgement with the hope of collecting later.

Pay particular attention to the issue of how you will collect a Judgement. The best way to collect any Judgement against your Ex-Tenant is to garnish wages. If she/he is working, there is an excellent chance of collecting if payment is not made voluntarily. Another way is to find out the name and address of the Defendant's Employer. If you sued an employed person, you may be able to collect your Judgement out of his or her salary. You can collect 10% of the Ex-Tenant's salary until the Judgement is paid, provided the Tenant's gross earnings are above a certain minimum amount set by federal law (currently $142.50 per week). You cannot however, garnish a welfare, Social Security, unemployment, pension or disability check. So, if the person sued gets income from one of these sources, you may be wasting your time unless you can identify some other asset that you can efficiently get your hands on. Bank accounts, motor vehicles and real estate are other common collection sources. But people who run out on their debts don't always have much to a bank account (or they may have moved the account to make it difficult to locate and much of their personal property may be exempt under state debt protection laws.)

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This web page was updated on 08/31/2004.