How to Collect a Judgment

Authored By: Bay Area Legal Services, Inc. - Hillsborough/Tampa

FAQ

What is a judgment?

A judgment is a court order saying that the Defendant owes you money. You are now a "judgment creditor." A judgment is automatically recorded in the official records of the county where the Defendant was sued or where the order was entered. As a judgment creditor, you can have a lien placed on the Defendant's property which may prevent him or her from selling the property without paying the judgment. You can also have the sheriff seize and sell any non-exempt property the Defendant owns, garnish non-exempt wages, or take non-exempt bank accounts, etc. If at any time the Defendant pays you in full, you must give the Defendant a “Satisfaction of Judgment.” You may get this form from the Clerk’s office. A certified copy of the Satisfaction of Judgment should be recorded in every county where the judgment was recorded. 

How do I collect a lien on property?

  • Get a certified copy of your Final Judgment and record it in each county where the Defendant owns real property. If the Defendant later tries to sell this property, he or she will not be able to give good title to a buyer unless the recorded judgment is satisfied or paid in full. (See Florida Statute 55.10) 
  • In Hillsborough County, you can obtain a certified copy from the Clerk's office in Room 103 of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse, 800 E. Twiggs Street, Tampa, Florida 33602. There is a charge for copies and certification. Take the certified copy of your Final Judgment to the Recording Division of the Clerk's office at 501 E. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa. Ask the clerk to record the judgment. There is a charge for recording. 

How do I collect on non-exempt property (execution and levy)?

 

The seizing of property by the sheriff is called a levy. Once the sheriff has levied on the property, the sheriff will then sell it, and pay you out of the money the sheriff receives from the sale. This process is called execution. There are a number of steps you must take.

  • Step 1. Once you get your judgment, you should first obtain a judgment lien by recording aJudgment Lien Certificate with the Department of State. This is not always crucial, but it is a very good idea. How you do it is explained below.

  • Step 2. In order to get the sheriff to levy upon (to seize) the judgment debtor's property, you must first locate the property. The sheriff won't do this for you. Remember that there are many kinds of property the sheriff can seize. Land and buildings are called real property. Movable things, like cars, horses, boats, furniture, and jewelry are called personal property. There are some kinds of property the sheriff cannot levy on. The main kind of property the sheriff cannot seize is a person's home. A person's homestead is exempt from execution. The judgment debtor may also select personal property worth up to $1,000, and one motor vehicle worth up to $1,000, as exempt property. Only people have exemptions. If your judgment is against a corporation or a partnership, the sheriff can seize all of its property. Of course, the sheriff can only levy on property the judgment debtor truly owns - not property owned by somebody else, such as leased property.

  • Step 3. Once you have located property the sheriff can seize, you take your judgment to the Clerk of the Court that issued the judgment and ask for a document called a Writ of Execution. This tells the sheriff to seize property of the judgment debtor to satisfy your judgment. You then deliver the writ to the sheriff's office in the county in which the property is located. You must also give the sheriff written instructions, called Instructions for Levy. These instructions describe the property, and tell the sheriff where it is located. The sheriff will require you to deposit some money to pay the sheriff's fees and costs. You will get your deposit back if the execution is successful.

  • Step 4. Before the property can be sold, you have to check the Department of State's internet website, at www.sunbiz.org, to see if there are any judgment liens filed under the name of the Judgment Debtor. You must also check the Florida Secured Transaction Registry for creditors who have filed UCC security interests in the name of the Judgment Debtor. You must notify all of these people of the time and place of the sale. You then give the sheriff a signed affidavit, on which you provide the information contained in all the judgment lien certificates filed against the Judgment Debtor.

  • Step 5. Once the notices have been sent, the sale must be properly advertised in a local newspaper. Then, at the designated time and place, the sheriff will sell the property at a public auction. You can bid at the auction if you want to. The highest bidder for cash in hand pays the price to the sheriff and becomes the owner of the property.

  • Step 6. The sheriff will pay out the money received from the sale in this order: First, the sheriff pays the sheriff's costs, and if the sale price covers these costs, you will get your deposit back. Second, the sheriff pays you $500 for your costs (whether you spent that much or not). Third, if somebody obtained a Judgment Lien before you did, the sheriff pays that person before paying you. If others have filed before you, the sheriff pays everybody in the order of filing. If the sheriff runs out of money before getting to you, you get nothing more. This explains why it is such a good ideato obtain a Judgment Lien as soon as possible. If no judgment liens have ever been filed, the sheriff will pay you first, and anything left over will go back to the judgment debtor. But it's still a good idea to file as soon as possible. If you don't, there is always a chance that somebody might file during the execution process and come in ahead of you.

  • IMPORTANT: If you previously delivered a writ of execution to a sheriff, you cannot rely on that. You must file a judgment lien certificate before October 1, 2003, in order to hold that place in line. 

How do I garnish non-exempt funds in a bank account? 

  • In the case where the judgment was issued, file a Motion stating the amount of the judgment and whether or not the Defendant has property on which a levy can be made to satisfy the judgment and requesting that a Writ of Garnishment be issued.

  • Complete Fla.R.Civ.P. Form 1.907(a) - Writ of Garnishment. Use the case number and parties’ names as they appear on the judgment. The garnishee is the bank where the Defendant maintains an account.

  • Take the completed Writ of Garnishment to the Clerk’s office and request that they issue theWrit. There is a fee and a deposit required. Check with the Clerk’s office for the amounts required.

  • Take the Writ to the Sheriff’s office and pay the fee required to have the Sheriff serve the Writ on the Garnishee (Defendant’s bank).

  • The Garnishee will have 20 days after they have been served to file an answer to the Writ.

  • 5 days after the Garnishee files an answer, or after the time for the answer to be filed has expired, mail the following documents to the Defendant and anyone else named in the Garnishee’s answer as having any ownership interest in the Defendant’s account: 1) a copy of the writ, 2) a copy of the Garnishee’s answer, 3) a notice with the information required by Florida Statute 77.055, and 4) a certificate of service.

  •  File the certificate of service with the Clerk’s office, in the case where the judgment and the Writ were issued.

  • If the Garnishee's Answer asserts that the Garnishee is not holding any funds of the Defendant and you dispute this, you must schedule a hearing.

  • If neither the Defendant nor the Garnishee files a written dispute as to the issuance of the writ within 20 days after the writ is served, then a Garnishment Judgment should be issued and you should be paid by the Garnishee. 

How do I continue to garnish non-exempt wages? 

  • In the case where the judgment was issued, file a Motion stating the amount of the judgment and whether or not the Defendant has property on which a levy can be made to satisfy the judgment and requesting that a Writ of Garnishment be issued.

  • Complete Fla.R.Civ.P. Form 1.907(b) - Continuing Writ of Garnishment Against Salary or Wages. Use the case number and parties’ names as they appear on the judgment. The garnishee is the Defendant’s employer.

  • Take the completed Writ of Garnishment to the Clerk’s office and request that they issue the Writ. There is a fee and a deposit required. Check with the Clerk’s office for the amounts required.

  • Take the Writ to the Sheriff’s office and pay the fee required to have the Sheriff serve the Writ on the Garnishee (Defendant’s employer).

  • The Garnishee will have 20 days after they have been served to file an answer to the Writ.

  • 5 days after the Garnishee files an answer, or after the time for the answer to be filed has expired, mail the following documents to the Defendant: 1) a copy of the writ, 2) a copy of the Garnishee’s answer, 3) a notice with the information required by Florida Statute 77.055, and 4) a certificate of service.

  • File the certificate of service with the Clerk’s office, in the case where the judgment and the Writ were issued.

  • If the Garnishee's Answer asserts that the Garnishee is not holding any funds of the Defendant and you dispute this, you must schedule a hearing.

  • If neither the Defendant nor the Garnishee files a written dispute as to the issuance of the writ within 20 days after the writ is served, then a Garnishment Judgment should be issued and you should be paid by the Garnishee. 

 

Updated May 4, 2017.

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