When you, as a tenant, have difficulty seeking the return of a security deposit from a landlord, the District Court of Maryland may serve as a useful tool to seek the owed money. Once the court declares that the landlord owes you money, the first step in obtaining the money owed is to record the judgment in the court. When you seek a judgment, you become known as the creditor or lienholder and the landlord becomes known as the debtor. Once recorded, you may use any of the following tools to seek the repayment of a debt: Property Lien, Wage Garnishment, Examination before Court, and Writ of Execution. Each of these processes is explained in more detail below.
Once a judgment is recorded in court, you, as a creditor, are able to attach a lien onto any property owned by the debtor. A lien is a right that prohibits the debtor from transferring their interest in a property until a debt is satisfied. The lien may be attached to any property or properties located within Maryland. Once filed, a lien will remain in force for 12 years unless removed by you after receiving payment from the debtor. After 12 years, you, as the lienholder, are permitted to renew the lien as long as the debtor has not paid the moneys owed under the judgment.
Often, attaching a lien to a property can spark a debtor to satisfy a lien and its corresponding judgment. As many property owners do not want to have a lien prohibiting the transfer of a property, a lien can provide the necessary motivation to the debtor to pay the debt.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 3-625
After recording your judgment and attaching a lien to the defendant’s property, you may unfortunately may find that a debtor still does not want to pay the judgment debt. A second option to enforce a debt is to seek a garnishment of the debtor’s wages. When sought by a creditor, wage garnishment requires the employer of the debtor to withhold a portion of the judgment debtor’s wages each pay period and forward the money to the you until the judgment is “satisfied”, i.e. paid in full. For more information on garnishments, see the People’s Law Library’s Guide to Garnishments: Garnishments.
To seek a garnishment of wages, you must seek a court order and a judge must approve. When seeking a garnishment, the following rules apply:
- In Baltimore City and all Maryland counties except Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Worcester, 75% 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 the 75% 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.
- A creditor cannot seek garnishment of wages used to pay for a debtor’s health insurance.
Once a garnishment is sought by a creditor and served upon the employer, otherwise known as the “garnishee,” the garnishee must file an answer within 30 days of being served with the writ or risk being held in contempt and possibly being required to pay attorney’s fees and court costs. See Rule 3-646(e). While the garnishment is in effect, the employer must remit all garnishable wages to the creditor (or to the court, if the employer or debtor has asserted a defense). See Rule 3-646(i).
Read the Law: Maryland Rule 3-646
While a garnishment is in affect, you, as the creditor, must keep records of all payments credited to the defendant. After each month in which any payment is credited, you must prepare a written statement of all credited payments and send this statement to the garnishee and to the debtor. While you are not required to send a copy of the statement to the court, it is wise and very recommended to keep a copy of each statement until 90 days after the end of the garnishment proceeding.
When requested, you have an obligation to make these statements available for review by the court or any party. If you fail to provide statements to the debtor disclosing the payments and the manner in which they were credited, the debtor can request that the court dismiss the garnishment proceeding and order you to pay the debtor’s attorney’s fees and costs.
Examination In Aid of Enforcement of Money Judgment
After recording a judgment, many creditors do not know the full extent of a debtor’s assets. In order to help you enforce your judgment, you may request an examination before the Court. Under this procedure, the Court will order the debtor to appear before a judge and testify, under oath, to testify as to the amount and extent of assets owned. From there, a debtor can request a Writ of Execution, as explained below, to seize the property and use the proceeds from the sale to satisfy the judgment. Effective October 1, 2015, the Court may require you to show good cause for any additional Examinations In Aid of Enforcement of Money Judgment.
Read the Law: Md Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 11-404
Writ of Execution
In addition to a property lien and wage garnishment, you may request a writ of execution and ask a court order that the debtor’s assets be sold in order to pay the debt. It is important to note that certain items are exempt from attachment, including, but not limited to, clothing, tools of trade or profession, and small amounts of property including money.
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.
Court costs or fees may apply in order to obtain a garnishment, to record a judgment lien or for any other reasonable and necessary expense. The basic judgment also earns 10% interest per year except interest on a money judgment for rent of a residential property earns 6% per year.
Read the Law: Md Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 11-107