In the old days, about 12-20 years ago, one could often enforce a judgment against a judgment debtor property owner by just recording a property lien. With home prices down, and so many upside down and no-equity situations; recording liens alone, often does not work, at least not as often as they they used to.
Besides waiting for a property lien to possibly and eventually work, another option is to have the Sheriff levy some available assets that belong to your judgment debtor. The first potential problem is if your judgment debtor files for bankruptcy protection. If they do, that stops or terminates all judgment recovery actions. Besides the possibility of the debtor filing for bankruptcy, physical property levies have three other drawbacks:
1) Real estate or physical property levies are expensive. Levies/Garnishments always involve a Sheriff or a Marshall. The creditor must pay for everything, from opening a Sheriff levy file, to possible storage of the judgment debtor’s property, and then potential auction fees. There are no refunds, and there is a chance that any money the creditor spends, will be money down the drain.
2) There are many laws that have liberal debtor exemptions. Many things are off limits, such as tools and vehicles used in a judgment debtor’s business. It is good to know the exemption laws for your State before you attempt a levy, because if the levy fails, you still must pay the fees. If the judgment debtor files an exemption claim, your expenses for the Sheriff to store vehicles will skyrocket. You might then seek an ex-parte motion to ask the judge to let you choose a less expensive storage yard.
3) Anything with a loan or lease on it cannot be levied, without paying off the existing lien holders or lenders. It is smart to check for loans and liens on a judgment debtor’s property first; and find out if it makes sense to have a Sheriff begin a levy, because if the levy fails, or fails to net you any money, you still need to pay all the fees.
This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer. Because property levies and real estate liens do not always make sense or succeed, other recovery tactics are required. You are not allowed to, and it is not smart, to turn your judgment debtor upside down, to see what falls out of their pockets. That leaves (besides property levies) bank and job levies, to attempt to recover your judgment.
On a real property levy, the actual levy is just a notice tacked onto the front of the property. That notice gives a certain number of days for the debtor to show cause why their dwelling should not be sold. On real property levies, the creditor must pay for a litigation guaranteed title report, and the Sheriff’s fees. If the property is the debtors’s residence, a judge needs to sign off on the sale, usually through an attorney. Property sales need to be advertised, and if you do not want the property; property sales should be advertised to realtors and possibly on the internet or other ways, to attract potential bidders.
Although bank and wage levies still require specific forms, permission from the court, and payment to the levying officer; they are cheaper and easier than levying your judgment debtor’s physical property. Before you can have the Sheriff levy your judgment debtor’s wages or bank account, you must exactly identify where your judgment debtor works or banks.
How can you find out where your judgment debtor banks, without paying a service to find out for you? You could follow them in your car until they go to their bank. You could search in their trash cans. You could sneakily look in their mailbox every day (which is probably illegal). You could schedule a judgment debtor examination and document requests and keep rescheduling them, until the judgment debtor shows you something that leads to discovering where they bank.
One problem with judgment debtor examinations are right before, or right after the date of the examination, the judgment debtor might move most of their money to a new bank, and tell you about their old bank account that now has $10 left in it. You can avoid tipping off the judgment debtor, and pay some service to find the judgment debtor’s bank account and having the Sherriff levy their bank account before the debtor examination.
How can you find out where your judgment debtor works, without paying a service to find out for you? You could follow them in your car until they go to work. You could ask neighbors, or their family members, where your judgment debtor works. You could schedule a judgment debtor examination and document requests and keep rescheduling them, until the judgment debtor shows you something that leads to finding out where they work. Or, you can pay some service to find out where your judgment debtor works.
If your judgment debtor will not pay you voluntarily, you must pay, and jump through some hoops of the courts, Sheriffs, and sometimes registered process servers; for chances to recover your judgment by levying the judgment debtor’s available assets.