Levying Debtor Property

August 12, 2023


I am a judgment broker, not a lawyer. This article is based on my experience in California. Laws vary in each state, and nothing in any of my articles should ever be considered legal advice.

This article is my opinion about Sheriff keepers, levies, and using a receiver to try to recover a judgment. Keep in mind that every state has debtor exemption laws that specify what a debtor is allowed to keep. Knowing beforehand, what a debtor is allowed to keep, can save you money and frustration.

When a judgment debtor does not have a regular job, and does not keep much money in their bank account, one must spend more money, and be more creative – and use the Sheriff to levy their personal or DBA business assets.

Levying the judgment debtor’s car might be a good first choice, but make sure it makes sense. Note that debtor’s property seized by the Sheriff is almost always sold at an auction. In most places, one must pay at least $1,000 to the Sheriff for the deposit, towing, and then pay for storage, until the Sheriff gets around to having the car auctioned off.

Usually, one is better off calculating the debtor exemption, costs, and value of the car and any loans on it, before deciding to request a Sheriff to levy the debtor’s car.

Sometimes one requests a Sheriff levy to encourage a debtor to pay, even when the calculations of expenses do not make sense. When you request and pay the Sheriff to levy a car, (usually) several weeks later, a tow truck will arrive where your debtor’s car is parked. Self-proclaimed poor debtors have been known to find money very quickly when they see their car hooked up to the tow truck.

What if your debtor is a small business? The cheapest option is a till tap, where the Sheriff or their agent arrives at the debtor’s business, and intercepts any cash destined for the cash register.

One way some judgment debtors (if they are small business owners) defeat till taps is to put up a “closed” sign in their window, and tell the Sheriff they are closing for the rest of the day.

Another way some small business judgment debtors defeat till taps is to use their pocket as the cash register while the Sheriff is there. Few Sheriffs will attempt to take money from the debtor’s pocket without a turnover order.

One benefit of a failed till-tap is that it proves you made an effort to try to get paid, with little or no results. This could set the stage for a judge to sign an assignment order, or for a keeper with a court order to seize debtor property.

Having the Sheriff seize big or heavy things is expensive and a hassle. It is a good idea to levy small things vitally important to the debtor’s business. Examples could be all the fittings on their air compressors, the valves that operate their hoists, their office computers, or other valuable and needed items for their business. The missing parts will encourage action to pay off the judgment, and the parts can be returned quickly.

A Sheriff keeper is when the Sheriff or their agent, stays at the judgment debtor’s business for a long time, sometimes several days, and inventories the assets for possible seizure and sale. Sheriff keepers are expensive, but they get the judgment debtor’s attention quickly.

Of course, if one has an assignment order, a turn-over order, or a Sheriff keeper installed, one also must specify and pay for any expertise or work needed. The writ or court order you provide to the judge for their signature should ask the local Sheriff to hire the expert you specify to (e.g.) remove valves and fittings.

Your order should specify to hire Joe Smith, pneumatics specialist, to take items X from business Y and store them at Joe Smith’s business until the court orders their return. Talk to the civil deputy in charge of civil business, and work out everything with them.

Taking the family pet can be very effective. Walter Steinmann, a very respected expert in judgment recovery in California, earned the title Mr. Meany for having the Sheriff take a family pet dog many years ago. Another expert judgment enforcer once had the Sheriff seize a boa constrictor pet snake. Of course you must discuss and pay for, a vet and safe boarding for the family pet until the debtor finds their checkbook.

Depending upon the amount of the judgment, when the Sheriff arrives, the debtor often pays, or discusses a settlement solution. If the Sheriff in your town is too busy to perform civil seizures, and the debtor has assets, you can ask a court to appoint a receiver. A receiver can do much more than a Sheriff can. While expensive, the costs of using a receiver can be added to the judgment debt.

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