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As a landlord, how can I practically and cost effectively collect a judgement from an unlawful detainer outcome?

San Diego, CA |

Assuming the person is self employed with little income, but is believed to have well beyond the judgement amount in some financial institution (e.g. $30K-50K). Can one cost effectively discover the institution (.e.g from IRS tax records) and pose a demand to it? In what cases can one obtain and sell the person's automobile? Can the government be notified so that once future income is reported, you can be told where to attach to wages? Also, can anyone do this cost effectively for you (e.g. on a $4K judgement)? Lastly, if one suspects they may declare bankruptcy soon (not the case yet), can one accelerate certain actions to extract payment before that might occur? Many thanks..

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Attorney answers 3


There is no effective way to discover a judgment debtor's tax records in order to locate assets. These are confidential and not even subject to subpoena. Also, in the absence of perjury and fraud, someone with "$30-$50K in a financial instituion" would not want to file chapter 7 bankruptcy. Of course, if that money is on deposit in an IRA it would be exempt from execution to enforce your judgment and would even pass through a bankruptcy anyway.
The primary tools available to collect a small judgment are: first, levy and garnishment based on information available; then judgment debtor examination. Often the judgment debtor had some sort of economic relationship with the judgment creditor. E.g., may have been a former tenant or customer. They may have written checks or supplied employment or credit information. If they are self-employed does the business have a website or facebook page that possibly refers to existing customers? Even the judgment debtor's residence and business address can help you to make a good guess where they bank.

Exhaust these possible avenues, and then obtain an order for the debtot to appear and testify under oath at a judgment debtor's examination. If they don't appear and testify a warrant may be issued for their arrest.

Also, you should record an abstract of your judgment, even if your debtor does not currently own real property.

Good Luck!




Thank you so much, Dean. That was very insightful. Just a couple additional comments/questions. Her rental application suggested at one time that $50K+ from a divorce settlement was being deposited in the Moneytree around when she moved in 7 months ago. If I had a judgement against her ,would the Moneytree be compelled to tell me whether she had an account there and any info. on the balance? If the money was transferred out, would they be compelled to tell me where it was sent? Lastly, her rental application indicates that she was going to start receiving alimony of about $1K/mo. Can alimony be discovered and levied upon? Many thanks..


IRS records are most likely protected from discovery in your case, but you might consider searching your own records for copies of checks or other means used by the former tenant to pay rent. Since most persons choose their bank with a branch location convenient to home or work, you might be able to make an educated guess. Once you have a judgment and a writ of execution is issued, the civil division of the office of the county sheriff will accept enforcement instructions from you. Ask the sheriff for a cost price list for all of the different enforcement actions offered. The least expensive is levying on a bank account, so adding a couple of guessed banks to your instruction letter could prove a smart gamble. A properly served Order for Appearance and Examination of Judgment Debtor ("OEX" or "ORAP") can also be rewarding because: (1) the former tenant will be required to come to court and disclose all assets under oath; (2) that prospective embarrassment may prompt a settlement offer; and (3) a very strong, but temporary (1 year), lien will arise in your favor against most personal property, disclosed or not. Recording an abstract of judgment will also create a lien against real property in that county, marking your place against current interests, and increasing your prospect of being paid as part of future purchases.


The IRS will not release information to you, nor will it assist you in any way. You may want to conduct a Judgment Debtor examination on the debtor. At the exam, you can ask him about the location of his assets and his financial affairs. As to BK, if he files BK within 90 days after you levy on an account, the BK Trustee may demand that you pay the money to the Trustee.

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