Sheriff Keepers

August 13, 2023

I am not a lawyer, I am a judgment referral expert (Judgment and Collection Agency Broker). This article is my opinion, based on my experience in California, and laws vary in each state. If you ever need legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.

When your judgment debtor is a business, one of the tools to recover a judgment is to hire a sheriff to be a “keeper”. The definition of a keeper is when a sheriff or their agents, go to a business for at least part, and usually a whole day; and then inventories the debtor’s assets, and usually intercepts any kind of cash flows (checks, old-fashioned paper money, sometimes possibly even intercepting credit card payments) from customers to a business or its cash registers, to help pay off the judgment.

A keeper is similar to a “till-tap”, however a till-tap is usually for much less than an entire day, and only intercepts old-fashioned cash paper money to a business.

A keeper stays longer than a till tap, and inventories assets of the debtor business, for possible future seizures and sale at an auction. Till-taps and keepers are done at the judgment creditor’s expense, however those costs can be added to the judgment debtor’s debt.

In some locations, sheriffs have time to install keepers on a timely basis. In many counties, there are not enough sheriff employees, so keepers are scheduled four to eight weeks out, sometimes with a limit of one day in a row. After you get your one-day keeper, your request goes back to the back of the line, so other judgment creditors can get their keepers. When it is your turn again, you can buy another keeper.

Sheriffs cannot interfere with the regular operations of the business or their employees. You cannot request the sheriff to ask the employees of the business to empty their pockets, or make customers to buy things, because the sheriff is only the levying officer. With a court order, the sheriff can later levy and sell at auction; equipment, inventory, art, and other movable business assets.

A registered process server cannot be a keeper. A court-appointed receiver can arrange to install a keeper daily, or as often as is required to satisfy the judgment. Receivers are very expensive, however a daily keeper function will cause most businesses to pay what is owed, close down, or file for bankruptcy protection.

If a keeper is not practical or available in your county, there are other ways to recover a judgment against a business. I have read that you might be able to levy on the building lease, if there are at least two years remaining on the lease, and the building owner agrees.

One would instruct the sheriff to levy the building lease, and sell it at an auction. No additional court hearing is necessary. Like any other business property, a business lease can be sold at an execution sale (auction) to the highest bidder. Of course, if you are the successful bidder at the auction, you must (at least begin to) pay the monthly lease.

One can recover some or all of their costs by subleasing the property to someone else who would like a ready-to-go business. Of course that is not your real goal, however you need to be prepared for this possibility. What you want, and what usually happens is, once the owner realizes they might lose their business, they will often find a way to pay off the judgment.

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