Tenants, landlords can go to court to collect money


June 12, 1994|By George B. Laurent

The Small Claims Court is a useful tool for a tenant to use in obtaining the return of a security deposit and for a landlord to use in getting compensated for property damage or lost rent.

Sometimes, however, one will be awarded a judgment only to have the other party refuse to pay it. (After winning a judgment in court, one should wait at least 30 days for payment).

The first step in obtaining the money owed is to record the judgment at the court. A recorded judgment will remain in force for 12 years and will greatly damage the defendant's credit record. Sometimes this fact is enough to ensure payment.

Then one may ask the court to garnish -- attach -- the defendant's wages The following rules apply.

* In Baltimore City and all Maryland counties except Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne's and Worcester, 75 percent of the disposable wages due to the debtor, or earnings at the rate of $145 weekly, whichever is greater, are exempt.

In Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne's and Worcester counties, the greater of 75 percent of the disposable wages due, or 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act in effect at the time the wages are due, is exempt.

* Statewide, any medical insurance payment deducted from an employee's wages by the employer is exempt.

If the garnishment is approved, then the employer must send to the judgment creditor on a monthly basis the amount granted by the court. In turn, the judgment creditor must follow with a monthly report to the court of monies received.

A defendant may also be summoned to court in order to be compelled to disclose assets that may then be sold to pay the debt -- certain items are exempt such as necessary clothing, tools of trade or profession, small amounts of property including money, and the like.

A lien may be put on the defendant's land or buildings, which then may be sold to satisfy the judgment.

There is certain income that cannot be garnished, such as social service payments. It used to be that wages of federal employees were exempt, but this is no longer so.

Should the defendant reside in another state, the court for that state may be petitioned to enforce the Maryland judgment by garnishing wages or implementing other forms of attachment.

There are small fees -- court costs -- for garnishment, registering the judgment, liens, and such, which are added to the judgment. The basic judgment also earns 10 percent interest per year.

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private non-profit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.

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