A judgment is a determination by a court that you are entitled to particular legal relief and therefore can use certain enforcement processes available through the court upon request to try to obtain that relief. The two key points to understand are:
- Judgments are not self-enforcing (you have to request enforcement action).
- There is no guarantee that the available enforcement mechanisms will result in full “satisfaction” of all legal relief to which you have been found entitled.
Topics covered below are:
Enforcing a Judgment for Possession
Your first priority may be to evict the tenant from the leased premises, which you will be entitled to do if you obtained a judgment for possession.
Caution: To avoid being counter-sued by the tenant for wrongful eviction, you must have a judgment for possession enforced through the court and Sheriff’s Department – see the topic “Self Help Eviction Illegal in Missouri” on the Missouri Law page.
If you got a judgment for possession, the court will send a notice to the tenant advising of the judgment and the need to vacate the premises; sometimes this prompts the tenant to move, but often it does not. If the tenant does not move voluntarily after a judgment for possession is entered, how soon the eviction can be enforced depends the judge’s ruling.
- By statute, if the judgment was entered because the tenant defaulted or as the result of a trial, the tenant has until the 10th day after entry of the judgment to file a motion to set aside the judgment or a request for a new trial, and a request for enforcement of the judgment will not be honored by the court until the 11th day after judgment entry. (If the 10th day falls on a weekend or holiday, the next business day counts as the 10th day.)
- Sometimes a judge will grant more than 10 days for a tenant to vacate before the eviction can be enforced. If so, this will be stated in the judgment.
Upon the client’s request, Scott Law Firm will file the necessary request with the court to issue an order to the sheriff for the eviction (called an “execution for possession”). We charge a flat fee of $25 for this service, and a sheriff’s fee of $30/defendant must also be paid.
After an execution for possession has been requested, we typically receive the execution back from the court clerk within a day. We must then get the execution order to the sheriff. Ordinarily we mail the execution order to the sheriff’s department, but you can pick up the order and deliver it to the sheriff’s department if you want to speed things up.
Once the sheriff’s department has the execution order, you must coordinate with the department to set the eviction date and time. If the assigned deputy has not already called you, call the sheriff’s department at 875-1111 (ask for the civil process clerk) to get the name of the assigned deputy and the deputy’s cell phone number. Then call the deputy to arrange a mutually agreeable time for the eviction to take place. It generally takes about five to seven days from the date we file the request for execution for possession for the sheriff’s deputy to actually arrive on the scene to supervise the eviction.
At the appointed time, you must either have a key to the premises, have a locksmith on hand, or be willing to force the door. You must provide the workers to move the tenant’s property to the curb – the function of the sheriff’s deputy is to make the tenants exit from the premises and stand by to preserve peace, and he or she will not help remove the tenant’s possessions. You may want to have a locksmith on hand in any event to change the locks unless you are confident that the tenant has surrendered all keys or left them behind in the unit.
So long as you have this eviction process supervised by the sheriff’s deputy, you will not be liable for loss of or damage to the tenant’s property removed from the premises unless you cause the damage negligently or intentionally.
Special Note: If some of the tenant’s property is clearly labeled as belonging to a third party (such as a rent-to-own store), you have a statutory duty to set aside such property in a secure place, notify the owner identified on the label in writing by certified mail, and allow that owner five days after receipt of the notice within which to retrieve the property.
It is not your responsibility if scavengers take the tenant’s property that has been moved to the curb – rather it is the tenant’s responsibility to safeguard and retrieve the property. In Columbia, property left at the curb after the tenant and/or scavengers remove what they want will generally be hauled away by the city trash collectors, but you may need to inform the Solid Waste Division of the Columbia Public Works Department that there will be an unusual amount of trash to be picked up. Outside of Columbia, where there is no municipal solid waste collection system, you may need to make arrangements with a private hauler to remove the items after a reasonable period of time has elapsed for the tenant to retrieve them.
In the unlikely event (at least in Boone County) that you have difficulty obtaining cooperation from the sheriff’s office to enforce an eviction, a statutory provision adopted in 1997 may help. It provides that if the sheriff’s office fails to execute an eviction within 7 days after receipt of an execution for possession, then within 60 days of the date of judgment, in the presence of a law enforcement officer, you may break and remove locks, enter and take possession of the premises, and remove the tenant’s property from the premises, subject to these conditions:
- Such action must be taken without breach of peace
- The law enforcement officer must first be presented with a copy of the judgment and execution for possession
- The law enforcement officer must acknowledge this in writing
- The acknowledgment must be filed in court by the landlord within 5 days after the eviction is completed.
- When an eviction is done this way, the landlord will not be liable for loss or damage to property left behind by the tenant unless the landlord’s actions are negligent, willful or wanton.
Enforcing a Monetary Judgment
Because of our heavy caseload, Scott Law Firm does not issue garnishments or provide other legal services to collect a monetary judgment.
Clients may wish to consider issuing garnishments on their own. Instructions for do-it-yourself garnishments.
For clients who do not wish to issue garnishments on their own or who desire other types of judgment enforcement (such as seizure of the judgment debtor’s property by the sheriff and sale of the property), there are two options to consider:
Collection Attorney: Collection attorneys can be located in the Yellow Pages or in online directories. These attorneys generally charge a contingency fee based on a percentage of the amount collected. They usually do not require that a judgment be assigned to them, and they are subject to strict ethical guidelines requiring them to account to clients for monies collected or face possible disbarment. Landlords may find, however, that collection attorneys are unwilling to work on collecting small-dollar judgments.
Collection Agency: Collection agencies also can be located in the Yellow Pages or in online directories. They also charge a fee based on a percentage of the amount collected. They generally require that you assign a judgment to them for collection so they can have garnishments issued in their names. Many of our clients have had good results by referring judgments to collection agencies. It is best to use a well-established agency that has a good reputation.
Upon a client’s request, we will provide information and/or documentation needed by a collection attorney or collection agency.
Note: Scott Law Firm recommends that our clients do not assign judgments to so-called “judgment collectors” who are not attorneys and who are not affiliated with an established collection agency.
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