General Question

emilia_eclaire's avatar

I've been sued---what now?

Asked by emilia_eclaire (314 points ) April 29th, 2009

I was recently sued in small claims court by a former landlord. I of course wasn’t able to go to court, because I now live several states away, so I imagine they ruled in the landlord’s favor. Has anyone gone through something similar? What measure do they go through to collect, if any, after you are formally sued? What does this all amount to?

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52 Answers

SeventhSense's avatar

Countersue.

emilia_eclaire's avatar

@seventhsense
I don’t know if I have the grounds or the money or the willpower to do so, but feel free to tell me more.

augustlan's avatar

If you own any property they could place a lien on it. If you ever sell it, they’d get the money.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

I think we need to hear a little more about the situation you were sued for to give you clear, relevant advice.

SeventhSense's avatar

Ask your lawyer. You need one anyway.

emilia_eclaire's avatar

In short, we broke our 2 year lease early, were a little behind on rent when we left, and we were charged for an additional two months I believe after we left. We did intend to pay them but once we moved it just seemed less and less feasible. I’m a grad student in my early twenties, own no property, savings, nothing. I can’t afford a lawyer, especially for small claims (where the maximum you can sue for is what, $3000?) My credit is already crappy, so that’s not even a major concern.

To our credit, we weren’t awful tenants. We sometimes paid several months in advance when we could afford to, but both us of being students, we sometimes were a little late with rent on occasion. I’m racking my brain for some technicality we could countersue for, but nothing comes to mind. We had to move because my bf was accepted to grad school several states away.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

Step 1: Find out what exactly you were sued for and how much you owe.

SeventhSense's avatar

Your best bet is to be proactive and try to work something out with the landlord. There’s no way you’re getting out of this but you might be able to get the landlord to agree to a payment plan and drop his case. If it goes to court, you may be liable for his legal fees as well. As a landlord, he is probably well familiar with this process. Take action and talk to the landlord. He just wants his money and if you had a lease and broke it you are liable. Best of luck.

emilia_eclaire's avatar

@BBSDTfamily

that info is in the mail so i’ll know soon enough.

The case has already gone to court, and we did try to contact our former landlords, but they did not respond.

What I’m really looking to find out is what are their means of collecting?

augustlan's avatar

They could even garnish your wages. They will get their money, one way or another.

funkdaddy's avatar

It’s different for every state what they would have to do to collect on a judgment. I’m not a lawyer, so take the rest of this with a grain of salt.

From being on the other side (I sued someone who did not show up, and received a default judgment) and talking to lawyers about it, their advice was to drop it as I would spend more time and money trying to collect and may never actually see any funds. This was for about $2100, so I was surprised it wasn’t seen as worth the trouble.

In court I asked for the judgment to include my travel expenses as I had to sue the gentleman in his home state which was across the country and was told that wouldn’t be added unless it was included in a previous agreement he had signed. You may want to read your lease and see if there is anything along those lines because it could end up costing you more to ignore the situation.

You know your situation, and I’m not trying to judge, but just to share my experience from the other side, I really wish he would have at least tried to contact me and pay. I would have taken just about any arrangement, $50 a month, a couple hundred dollars a year, whatever he could do. Instead I ended up contacting law enforcement and found out he had scammed other folks as well. Instead of letting him continue, I did what I could and at that point he went to jail. I wasn’t happy about the outcome in the least for either of us.

I think @SeventhSense had some great advice regarding contacting your landlord to work something out. You may be a poor grad student now, but at some point you’ll graduate and start making some money, you’re going to want to buy a car, a house, or something. That judgment will gain interest and there may be other fees in your lease. Mine is good for 10 years, and I believe I can apply to have that extended, it won’t go away if he wants to pursue it, and spite is powerful motivation.

Good luck with the whole thing.

Lupin's avatar

Great advice from Funkdaddy. I too went after someone who intentionally screwed me and 2 other coworkers. We figured we were willing to spend 3x the amount he owed us just to stop him a counter his arrogance. We had his logging truck seized and put up for auction. We also went to the county office and looked for other people that had outstanding judgments against him and suggested they show up at the sheriff auction, too. Everyone got paid.
Let’s see, you broke the lease, you didn’t pay your last couple of months rent, you did not offer a compromise payment plan, and you moved to a different state causing the landlord to resort to court action. Are you really surprised you’re being sued?

qashqai's avatar

1) Get the best lawyer around.
2) Ask for moral damages.
3) Become rich.

YARNLADY's avatar

If there was a judgment made in their favor, you need to get a copy of it from the court, and then hire a legal aid (or see if your school has a service for students) to help you draft a response, which would be along the lines of an offer to pay what you can afford for a specific length of time.

We are lucky enough to have a para-legal in our family, and she helped reduce the judgment in a case for a family member.

Judi's avatar

As a landlord, I usually send these judgements to a collection agency who tries to collect. I sometimes get money, sometimes I don’t. Usually someone is trying to clear up their credit to buy a house and comes back and finally pays. If you don’t have anything to attach (both students, unemployed with no property and no credit to destroy) then they can’t really do much. Don’t keep to much money in a bank account that they know about though because they could attach it.

Triiiple's avatar

If you skip out on court dont you get…warrents?

casheroo's avatar

I’m in the same boat as @funkdaddy
I sued someone, won by default since they didn’t show up (would have won anyways) We put a lien on the plantiffs…but we just cannot afford to do the sheriff’s sale. Suing people cost a lot of money. Thing is, if your old landlord can afford the sheriff sale, you’ll have to pay pay all the court fees that they paid.
Once we do the sheriff sale, we’re going to take her belongings and sell them. We plan on taking her most valuable belongings. I’m super bitter about my case, let’s hope your ex landlord shows you more mercy than I would.

Judi's avatar

@casheroo ; It sounds like tehy already moved out to another state. They didn’t abandon any property, they just broke their lease.

casheroo's avatar

@Judi I know, I read her posts. The landlord still had a right to sue for lost rent, and he won the case.

cwilbur's avatar

If you skipped the court date, you almost certainly already lost. It’s going to be much more difficult and expensive to fight now that there’s a ruling against you. Your best bet is to contact the court and make arrangements to pay what you can. Because you waited until after the court date, you aren’t just negotiating with the landlord anymore.

dynamicduo's avatar

You should really talk with a lawyer here if you want to settle this issue without it coming back up to bite you in the ass in the future. Or even if you don’t want to settle it but still avoid it, I’m sure a lawyer could have valuable words for you.

Laws change depending on where you live and where the crime took place. No actual credible lawyer will give you an answer on an online forum for free, thus the only people responding here have no real training in the law let alone in your area or in your case. Hence, your best bet is to stop talking about this in public and to talk with a lawyer.

tinyfaery's avatar

Were you ever served with a summons & complaint? If you were, and did not answer, your best option is to either file for bankruptcy or try to come up with some sort of settlement offer/payment plan. If you were not served, a court judgment was probably ordered against you. However, if you can get an attorney, they can fight the court judgment, but you’d have to pay them. And since it seems that you are guilty, a lawyer will probably not be able to reverse the judgment.

(I work for collections attorneys.)

emilia_eclaire's avatar

Has anyone here actually BEEN sued? are there no other lazy broke-ass malcontents like myself who’ve been in my situation on fluther?

What I’m interested to know particularly is how can this court enforce the ruling out of state, seeing as they have very limited info as to my whereabouts.

I was served, in a sense, they delivered it to the only forwarding address I left them, which to my embarrassment, was my family’s house. My brother accepted it for me, he’s a teen and didn’t know any better, otherwise I might have grounds to take this back to court.

cwilbur's avatar

I have been sued before.

The court just ratified the landlord’s claim against you. Now the landlord can turn it over to a collection agency if he wants. The court doesn’t need to actively enforce it; the damage it does to your credit rating will be enough. It will show up when you apply to rent an apartment or buy a house, or when you apply for a new job, if they do a background check and credit check. It will follow you even out of state. It will not go away.

Odds are good that the court awarded the landlord statutory interest, too, so until you do something about it, the debt will keep growing. This will not go away. It will come back to haunt you until you do something about it.

Your best bet is to contact either the landlord, in order to make arrangements to pay, or a lawyer, in order to try to fight it. Given that there’s already a judgment against you, fighting it with a lawyer will be an uphill climb, and it will probably cost more than just paying it off. Especially as you admit that you owe the money and that you had intended to pay it.

SeventhSense's avatar

Has anyone here actually BEEN sued? are there no other lazy broke-ass malcontents like myself who’ve been in my situation on fluther?
Sure there are people like that here but this is not an ethical solution. Do you want to get out of this recurring situation or do you want to go from bad to worse. These things snowball. Think about how you’re going to pay the piper rather than go on the lam. You’ll be much happier in the long run.

arnbev959's avatar

It sounds like your brother might know better than you.

At this point, you’re better off just finding a way to pay. If you wanted to fight it, you should have done something before it went to court. Fighting it now will just give you a bigger headache.

emilia_eclaire's avatar

@seventhsense

I’m aware, but at the moment I’m most concerned with how this will affect me in the immediate future. I’m aware of the damage it does to my credit report and that’s something I can live with for a year or two until I have a job and the funds to make things like this go away. I’m not in any position to start paying this down right now.

emilia_eclaire's avatar

Also thank you, “Pete the Pothead”, for passing judgement on me.

tinyfaery's avatar

@emilia

Like others said, this is going to snowball unless you start doing something about it. If you have no assets, there is not much that can be done as far as placing liens and such. But the debt will NOT go away.

Try to set up a payment plan w/ the landlord. If he realizes you don’t have anything, he might accept small monthly payments to recoup some costs.

When you are out of school and finally making money, this debt could show up and bite you in the ass.

Avoidance is never an answer.

SeventhSense's avatar

@emilia_eclaire
Forget about your credit rating or your pocketbook. There’s something far more important that you sacrifice and that’s character. For me, my word is bond and if I am unable to do something or make a payment I let them know, but I face it. Try it because it works.
You lose face but save your ass, both in the near and long term future.

casheroo's avatar

@emilia_eclaire The court can uphold the ruling because you lost by not showing up. You obviously know the date of the hearing, if you know you missed it. Did you even attempt to contact anyone, to let them know you were out of state? Did you file for an appeal, and make arrangements for another court date? You would have had plenty of time to plan on going if you filed an appeal.
I’m sorry, I’m not going to show you any sympathy if that’s what you want. People who have sued others are telling you what will happen to you, and apparently thats not good enough for you.

emilia_eclaire's avatar

@tinyfaery

Since you work in collections, tell me, is this like a credit card debt that will disappear from my credit after 7 years or will it literally never go away?

And would everyone please note that I do have parents, I don’t need a lecture, I’m just looking for practical advice regarding my legal situation, thank you! I’m not saying I don’t owe them money or shouldn’t have to pay them back, it’s just a matter of how and when. I tried to stay on top of my financial situation for a long time, but after a few years as a college grad working several soul-sucking part-time jobs at once just to make ends meet, I decided it was more worthwhile to let my credit lapse and pursue what I really wanted to do rather than hate my life and run from one job to the next like a chicken with my head cut off.

casheroo's avatar

@emilia_eclaire This will not come off your credit until it is paid. This is a judgement against you, not the same as credit card debt. I know this from personal experience, my husband owes the county court fees from like, 2003…

SeventhSense's avatar

PRACTICAL ADVICE- Pay it.

tinyfaery's avatar

A court judgment only lasts so long, but it can be renewed if your landlord chooses to do so (there are fees invloved in this). Maybe your landlord will forget about it or choose not to renew, but do you really want to hope that happens?

SeventhSense's avatar

Soul sucking jobs
——>definition- Ego Deflating, Character Building

emilia_eclaire's avatar

@casheroo

I did try to contact them, I didn’t see a point in trying to get a different court date since the ruling most likely would’ve been against me whether I was there or not.

I’m not looking for sympathy so much as empathy, which I would expect from people like you since your husband is in a similar situation.

emilia_eclaire's avatar

@Seventhsense

Again, this is like something my dad would say. Of course, to his credit, he doesn’t have the kind of financial problems I have. But please accept that not everyone can accept this “pain and suffering is somehow good for you” mentality, and it’s even harder for those that were raised by people such as yourself. But I do respect your opinions, and I’m sure they’ve served you well.

SeventhSense's avatar

Pain and suffering
definition- hard work

casheroo's avatar

@emilia_eclaire I still thinking looking into an appeal might give you more time, I’m not sure if you have to pay for it though, and I’m pretty sure you have to go to the county court house to file for it, which obviously you can’t do since you moved.
I’d look into a payment plan, I’m sure they can work something out. It totally sucks. My husband owes court fees from a long time ago, but he was found guilty so he most definitely will pay those fees, we just never had the means to pay it all off. Things like that don’t accrue interest though, which is a bonus. Call to see how much you owe, and if you can set up a payment plan. They can’t arrest you for not paying. not to my knowledge

YARNLADY's avatar

@emilia_eclaire My son had a similar situation with a judgment against him for an abandoned rental lease. There were a lot of other financial obligations involved, and he declared bankruptcy for over $25,000 worth of bills. This is on his credit report, and even after seven years, it means that lenders will not give him the most favorable interest rates.

His story is different, since this all happened to him as a result of giving his ex-wife a power of attorney while he was on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. His credit rating with potential lenders is just about non-existent.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@emilia_eclaire I understand your situation. And I do not judge you at all. We are facing a similar situation. Well only similar in some ways I suppose. But I understand what it is like to want to pay but not be able to. And therefore to be more concerned with how it will immediately affect your future.

I believe there is the possibility of wage garnishment. But most states but a cap on this at anywhere from 10–30% of your paycheck and only one debt at a time can be garnished, and only you can be garnished not your b/f unless you were married while the debt occurred. Since you don’t own any property you don’t have to worry about that. I’m pretty sure they can’t garnish student loans so it should not affect that. If the landlord is persistent they could get the Court to pressure you. In that case you would know what is going to happen in advance and have a chance to solve the problem. You can’t go to jail for it. They can take money from your bank account so don’t leave any money in there and do not cash checks without first asking your bank if your account has been frozen (you may have to cash them at a place like Fred Meyers or Safeway which charges money but hey if its your last choice then you go for it).

SeventhSense's avatar

@emilia_eclaire
But please accept that not everyone can accept this “pain and suffering is somehow good for you” mentality, and it’s even harder for those that were raised by people such as yourself.)
Please spare me the self pity and don’t accuse me of being someone that you compare to your parents.Although I’m sure it would be in good company. I’m 41 years old and I don’t have kids. The problem with your aforementioned mentality is because you don’t want to suffer for your actions, you cause others to suffer. What did the landlord do to you? Did he not in good faith offer you his trust? Did you not violate a contract? You say how you were such a good tenant but you were anything but. No one owes you anything. Nobody rides for free. I guarantee the landlord worked his ass off to earn the money to purchase apartment units and maintain them and contributed value to the community by offering them for rent. And if I sound like your parents, well maybe you should listen to them. I worked my ass off studying full time and working full time to earn a degree. No one likes hardship. No one likes to have to suffer. Why should you be exempt from having to go through it? Why are you so special? Why should the landlord experience grief and you don’t have to? And if you can’t pay your bills and go to grad school, then you make adjustments. You take a longer course to finish. You don’t ask the world to make adjustments for you.

YARNLADY's avatar

@SeventhSense I am a landlord, and I second your comments. The bills for insurance, taxes, and mortgage continue whether a tenant pays his rent or not. When the tenant does not pay, the landlord has to cover it out of his own pocket. How is that fair? He needs to make a profit, to pay his own bills, feed his own family, and so on.

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YARNLADY's avatar

I would second this , except I don’t believe in calling names. Let’s just say, your time will come.

tinyfaery's avatar

Well, at least it can all work out. I’m not judging you, girl. You made a choice and it had consequences. That’s life.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Personal attacks are not permitted, and have been removed.

Krag's avatar

Tell the land lord to sue for double and give you half

bea2345's avatar

These debts never go away, See a lawyer; find out how much you owe; learn what rights you have; find out what you can do to amortize the debt; pay. One day you will want to buy a house, open a business and it helps if your credit is clean. Never mind the sermons, you are going to get them anyway.

mirifique's avatar

I’m not judging, because this kind of thing can literally happen to anyone, but I do want to help. Judgments can last up to ten years, so keep in mind that even if you are just a student and not making any money now, if you do plan on working anytime within the next 10 years (and the judgment remains active), they can easily hire a skip tracer for $50, find out where you’re working, and garnish your wages at that point. If you ever purchase a car in the next 10 years, they can attach it and seize it; they can foreclose a house you purchase in the next 10 years. Collections agencies do this professionally and they’ve seen worse cases than yours, and they know how to deal with all of them (most of them are guaranteed services meaning if they don’t collect, the plaintiff doesn’t pay). The legal process of garnishment/attachment is intended to be so inescapable that your only solution is to confront it head-on and either respond to the landlord yourself and work out a payment plan, or hire an attorney, through which you could contest the judgment. Otherwise it’s you against the legal system, which not a good place to be. Spend $150 and have an attorney spend an hour on your case; at least at that point you will know what you can expect, and how much more time and energy you should put into it.

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