Small Claims Big Headaches

By Jed Sampson

The feeling of relief after completing an eviction on a tenant who owed multiple months of back rent can be followed quickly with the nauseating sensation when they leave owing thousands, and small claims seems to be the only answer.  My suggestion…avoid it. 

 

Filing a small claims action can be daunting.  From filling out the Summons to hauling yourself down to the courthouse is only the start.  You should consider yourself lucky if you even received a court date as this means your Summons was served to the tenant, and they were not so good at hiding as they may have thought.  After spending hours in court, you may receive a judgement, however you must then wait for the packet to file your certifications.  What many landlord’s find out at this stage is something that they already knew at the start; the tenant has no money.  The court officer assigned to your docket will come back with bad news.  They cannot levy any monies due if the tenant has nothing to begin with.

 

I do not want to sound too cynical though as many attorney’s and/or collection agencies are able to achieve great results.  Court officer’s do great work with the information they have and can sometimes come through with your back rent.

 

Instead of going through this mess, being consistent with your landlord/tenancy court actions is a far better route.  First, always ask for a month and a half for security deposit, no exceptions.  Second, file consistently on the 10th of the month (if not sooner).  Getting into a routine is never a bad thing.  Many react favorably and gain a better understanding with consistent policies and procedures.  When tenants understand that rent is due on the first, late after the 5th, and filings begin on the 10th, you will eventually see less court action on a monthly basis. 

 

Filing early and often can also help a tenant who is in need of rental assistance.  There are many agencies in New Jersey that assist with back rent.  We all know some are better than other’s.  However, if a tenant applies for assistance while owing the current month of rent, the agency will be more open to assist rather than help someone who walks in owing multiple months of rent.  Agencies will always try to help as many people as they can.  If they have $5,000 to allocate to rental assistance, they are going to see how many people can be helped.  Agencies will be hesitant to dish out their allocated funds to one tenant who owes multiple months of rent, as they could split that amount between four to five people, as an example.

 

Having a good attorney and strong bookkeeping is also a great way to avoid surprises and delays.  I encourage all landlord’s to always use an attorney to assist in legal matters.

 Jed Sampson is the VP of Computex Information Services, Inc. which was started by his father Marc Sampson, Past President of the POA.  They handle rent collection and court work services for landlords throughout the state.  He can be reached at jsampson@computexnj.com or via telephone at 973/675-7005.