Looking for apartments to rent with a past judgment is difficult, to say the least. Landlords and apartment managers are often leery of renting to someone who has a rent judgment in their past. This doesn’t mean you will always get turned down, but you may have to get a little strategic. Armed with some knowledge, you can get an apartment with a past eviction or broken lease, if you know how to go about it.
What Is a Rent Judgment?
When you break a lease, or go through the eviction process, your former landlord will likely turn to the courts to try and seek monetary damages from you. If you owed back rent payments, or damaged your unit beyond normal wear and tear, then the apartment owner can sue you to recuperate her money as well as court costs and attorney fees. In the event you lose your case, then you can expect to have a judgment levied against you. At this point, your judgment becomes public record and goes onto your credit report, for all prospective landlords to see.
When you have a civil judgment against you, the apartment owner has several ways to collect on the judgment. Your wages can be garnished, your bank accounts can be levied and even your personal property could be seized.
Getting Rid of the Judgment
While judgments can stay on your credit report for seven years (or longer in some cases), there are a few ways to have it removed or lessen its impact. One way to remove a rental judgment from your record is to have it vacated. When your judgment is vacated, it is erased from your record, if it meets the requirements for being vacated. If you've already paid the judgment, then the judgment is considered satisfied and credit bureaus are required by law to have it removed from your report.
You can also object to the filing. If you respond within 30 days of receiving notice by proving the debt is invalid, you may be able to get the judgment hearing set aside or dismissed. However, if you do not respond at all, you will have a default judgment levied against you – even if it is invalid – so it is important that you do not miss any court dates or ignore any court notices.
Understanding Dismissed Judgments
Even the way you were served notice can be cause to have the judgment dismissed. If you were improperly served or you weren't given 30 days notice to dispute the claim's validity, then your landlord violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and this could be grounds for asking the court to dismiss the judgment, even if it is valid. But bear in mind, validity of debt cannot dismiss a judgment that is already in place. However, if you were not given proper time to dispute the debt in the first place, then the judgment would have been entered in error and, therefore, void.
Apartment Hunting With a Judgment
When your judgment is valid and you cannot have it dismissed or settle on the debt, then it will remain on your credit report. Because this judgment lets landlords know you have previously had issues with a tenancy, you are considered a riskier prospect than someone with no judgment on their credit report. But if you look for smaller landlords, or apartments that are not managed by a large company, you may be able to negotiate with the owner for leniency. Try offering to pay a higher security deposit or supply a few positive references from past landlords to vouch for your character.
You may also want to consider getting a roommate or asking a trusted friend or family member to co-sign on the lease with you. This way, if you do default on monthly rent payments, the landlord has assurances that he will be paid.
Finding apartments that accept judgments can be difficult. This is because nearly all prospective landlords will want to check your credit report, even smaller operations. However, by being upfront and honest, you will cut the negative marks on your report off at the pass, which demonstrates to the landlord that you’re facing the issue head on.
Tara Thomas is a Los Angeles-based writer and avid world traveler. Her articles appear in various online publications, including Sapling, PocketSense, Zacks, Livestrong, Modern Mom and SF Gate. Thomas has a Bachelor of Science in marine biology from California State University, Long Beach and spent 10 years as a mortgage consultant.