Can Wages Be Garnished for Nonpayment of Rent?

A wage garnishment can shrink your paycheck.

A wage garnishment can shrink your paycheck.

Failing to pay your rent is a sure way to land yourself in financial trouble. You can be evicted, and your landlord can sue you for the money you owe, plus interest, attorney's fees, court costs and late fees. Your landlord can garnish your wages if you don't pay your rent, but she'll have to sue you and get a judgment first.

Obtaining a Judgment

If you don't pay your rent, your landlord can file a lawsuit to recover what you owe. If she wins this suit, she can get a judgment ordering you to pay the amount you owe, and this judgment will go on your credit report. Consequently, it's important to show up to court and present evidence if you don't owe the rent. If you do owe it, negotiating a settlement with your landlord can save you the hassle of a lawsuit.

Garnishing Your Wages

Your landlord has to get a judgment before she can garnish your wages. Thereafter, she can fill out a wage garnishment application. Your employer is then required to tell you of the garnishment and to withhold money directly from your paycheck each pay cycle until the debt is paid. If you're an independent contractor or are unemployed, your landlord won't be able to garnish your wages.

State-Specific Exceptions

Every state establishes its own laws governing wage garnishments. Texas and Pennsylvania completely prohibit wage garnishments for any reason, while states such as New Hampshire create a variety of hoops that creditors must jump through. You'll need to consult your local laws to determine what specific procedure your landlord has to follow before dipping into your paycheck.

Limitations on Garnishments

Although states can establish their own laws, when state laws extend fewer protections to debtors than federal law does, federal law will govern garnishments. Under federal law, your landlord can take the lesser of 25 percent of your disposable income or the amount of your weekly pay that is more than 30 times the federal minimum wage. Your landlord has to stop garnishing your wages when the judgment is fully paid.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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